Leo Messi at tax fraud trial: “All I did was play soccer; I trusted my dad”

Soccer star and his father face 22-month prison sentence and €4.1 million fine over undeclared image rights earnings

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio, in court on Thursday.Photo: reuters_live | Video: POOL (EFE) | QUALITY
Jesús García Bueno

Soccer star Leo Messi arrived on Thursday morning at a Barcelona courthouse to testify at his own trial for tax evasion.

Messi’s deposition barely lasted 15 minutes, and he is not expected to show up in court again for the duration of the trial. The Barça star replied to most questions with one-syllable answers, claiming ignorance on all issues relating to his financial affairs.

Dressed in a smart black suit, the Barcelona FC and Argentina international arrived outside the provincial court, the Audiencia de Barcelona, at 10.15am along with his legal team and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, his brother Rodrigo, his financial advisor and several representatives of Barcelona FC.

As the requested sentence is under two years and he has no criminal record, there is little likelihood of Messi going to prison

Messi and his father, who manages his financial affairs, used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to conceal €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 Ballon d’Or winner has already admitted these facts 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.

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Asked by the prosecutor, Raquel Amado, about the income tax that he withheld from Spanish coffers for three years, the player simply responded: “I don’t know about that. All I did was play soccer; I trusted my dad. I never asked about that subject [taxes]. I don’t know anything about that, I never had an interest in that, honestly.”

Following his own defense’s advice, Messi did not answer questions by state lawyers representing the Spanish Tax Agency, which is the only accusing party in the case.

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

Asked about the contracts that he signed, the player’s response was that he signed without reading the contents of the documents. “I signed them because I trust my dad and it never occurred to me that he might try to fool me. I knew that we signed agreements with different sponsors who paid X amount, and that I had to be in ads, photo ops and things like that. But I have no idea where the money went.”

Tax authorities are 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 requested sentence is less than two years and he has no criminal record, there is little likelihood of Messi going to prison.

English version by Nick Lyne.

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