Messi’s father is only one accountable for tax crimes, says prosecutor

But Barça star will still have to stand trial after Tax Agency demands 22-month jail term

Jorge Horacio Messi (wearing sunglasses) is accused of masterminding the tax fraud.
Jorge Horacio Messi (wearing sunglasses) is accused of masterminding the tax fraud.Gianluca Battista

Prosecutors have asked to drop the tax fraud case against soccer star Leo Messi even though the Barcelona player has admitted to withholding €4.1 million in taxes from the Spanish revenue service.

The prosecution believes that only the Argentinean player’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi, should be held criminally accountable for the tax fraud, which went on between 2007 and 2009, as he was the one in charge of Leo Messi’s accounting.

Leo Messi “never spent a single minute of his time reading, studying or analyzing” his contracts, said his defense attorneys

However, Messi himself will also still have to sit in the dock after state lawyers representing the Tax Agency filed charges of their own that have been upheld by a court.

These attorneys are seeking a 22-and-a-half month jail term for Messi and a fine of €4.1 million.

The written accusation by public prosecutor Raquel Amado’s office notes that Jorge Horacio Messi created a network of companies in tax havens in order to avoid paying taxes on money earned from his son’s image rights. The prosecutor is asking for the father to serve one and a half years in prison and pay a fine of €2.09 million.

As a Spanish resident, Messi has the obligation to declare all income earned in Spain and abroad to the country’s tax authorities.

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Between 2007 and 2009, Messi made €10.1 million from advertising contracts with major companies across the world. But thanks to his father’s fiscal engineering methods, the player did not declare this income on his Spanish tax returns.

Instead of paying €4.1 million in taxes, he allegedly “simulated the transfer of his image rights” to front companies with no business activity located in tax havens such as Uruguay and Belize. The money ended up in firms set up in Britain and Switzerland “with practically no taxation” and without the knowledge of the Spanish Tax Agency.

The prosecutor’s report considers that Leo Messi simply followed his father’s instructions because he trusted him “fully and blindly.”

Despite the scope of the tax fraud, the prosecution is only seeking a one-and-a-half year prison sentence for Jorge Horacio Messi because of the extenuating circumstance that his son immediately deposited €5 million at the courthouse after learning of the charges – equivalent to the amount of the fraud plus interest.

But state attorneys representing the Tax Agency’s interests have filed a written accusation of their own stating that Leo Messi should also stand trial over the case.

While the Tax Agency’s legal representatives admit in their written prosecution, which EL PAÍS has had access to, that Leo Messi is “unfamiliar” with tax issues, he “cannot be ignorant of the fact” that much of his income for image rights was coming from firms set up in tax havens.

The player lost his last chance to avoid appearing in the dock in June, when the Barcelona Provincial Court struck down his defense’s appeal against this accusation. His lawyers had claimed that Leo Messi “never spent a single minute of his time reading, studying or analyzing” the contracts that regulate “the wealth he creates through his work.”

But the court felt that there was enough evidence to suggest that Messi benefited from the situation on his tax returns.

English version by Susana Urra.