Madrid: Barcelona star Lionel Messi should not be including in a fraud probe because he had nothing to do with his own tax affairs, the Argentine player's father and manager Jorge said Thursday. The player and his father were accused last year of not paying 4.16 million euros ($5.26m, 3.26m pounds) in tax on earnings from the player's image rights from 2007-2009 through the creation of a web of shell companies in Belize and Uruguay.
Both Messi and his father denied wrongdoing when they were quizzed at a court in Gava, the Barcelona suburb where the player lives, in September 2013. They pointed the finger instead at a former agent of the 27-year-old player. "I want to be quite cautious over this," Jorge Messi said during an interview with radio Cadena Cope when he was asked about the affair.
"I have always said it, he had absolutely nothing to do with this issue, so there is no need to talk about it," he added. "My lawyers are dealing with this issue so it's something with me and has nothing to do with him." Messi moved closer to facing trial over the tax fraud allegation after a Spanish court on October 3 rejected his appeal against being named din the case and ordered the probe to go ahead.
Based on the Messis' testimony in at the court in Gava in September 2013, public prosecutors called for the case to be shelved. But the court in July ruled that there was "sufficient evidence" to believe Messi "could have known and consented" to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights and ordered the prosecution of the case to go ahead.
Messi's lawyers appealed but on October 3 the court "dismissed entirely" their petition and upheld its earlier ruling. "In this type of crime, it is not necessary for someone to have complete knowledge of all the accounting and business operations nor the exact quantity, rather it is sufficient to be aware of the designs to commit fraud and consent to them," it said in its ruling.
Messi's father made a payment of five million euros in August 2013 to cover alleged unpaid taxes, plus interests. That was thought likely to significantly reduce any sentence should they be found guilty. Messi is the fourth richest sportsperson in the world, according to a ranking published in June by Forbes business magazine. The player moved up to fourth from 10th place in just a year with an annual income of just under $65 million, it said. Between 2007 and 2009 he earned more than 10.17 million euros in image rights, including contracts with Adidas, Danone and Pepsi-Cola.