TAX FRAUD

Leo Messi tax evasion trial begins in Barcelona

Argentina soccer international’s hearing expected to last three days, but no chance of prison term

Leo Messi at a court appearance in 2013.
Leo Messi at a court appearance in 2013.GIANLUCA BATTISTA

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The trial of  Leo Messi began on Tuesday in a Barcelona court, where the Barcelona striker and Argentina international faces charges of defrauding the Spanish Tax Agency of €4.1 million. More than 200 journalists from around the world have descended on the Catalan city to cover the hearing, which is expected to last three days. Messi will give his testimony on Thursday.

Messi’s money ended up in firms set up in Britain and Switzerland “with practically no taxation” and without the knowledge of the Spanish Tax Agency

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, who manages his financial affairs, used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to hide €10.1 million of income from image rights between 2007 and 2009. 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 five-times FIFA Balon d’Or winner has already admitted this and paid €5 million to the authorities, along with a further €10 million to regularize his situation for 2010 and 2011.

The prosecutor’s report considers that Leo Messi simply followed his father’s instructions because he trusted him “fully and blindly,” and that responsibility for the fraud lies with his father.

But the Spanish Tax Agency, which is bringing the case, is calling for a fine equivalent to the €4.1m allegedly defrauded, as well as a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days for both Messi and his father. As the sentence demanded is less than two years and he has no criminal record, there is little likelihood of Messi going to prison.

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Since the tax fraud was uncovered three years ago, Messi has consistently insisted on his ignorance of his financial affairs. His father has supported this, saying: “The only thing my son does is play football.”

Questioned by a judge in 2013, Messi said: “I sign contracts but I never look at them. I don’t know what I’m signing. I trust my father who takes care of these things. I do what he tells me to do. I only look at the summary at the end of the year to see what I’ve made.”

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

English version by Nick Lyne.

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