Saturday 20 January 2018

Messi must face court grilling over allegations of tax fraud

Ben Rumsby

Lionel Messi will be grilled by a Spanish court over allegations he and his father committed fraud to the tune of €4m, it has been confirmed.

A judge presiding in the Mediterranean coastal town of Gava near Barcelona authorised the commencement of proceedings against Messi based on a state prosecutor's accusation that the four-time reigning World Player of the Year and father Jorge Horacio cheated the Spanish tax man out of €4m.

Father and son will appear before judge Anju Deb Rani in Gava in a closed session on September 17, the hearing forming part of an investigation to determine whether there are grounds to charge them.

The court said in a statement that the judge's acceptance of the complaint lodged by prosecutor Raquel Amada last week was "a routine step".

It added: "To move forward with the investigation, a series of procedural steps will be carried out, like taking testimony of the people necessary so as to clarify if a criminal offence has been committed or not."

Amada's complaint, filed on June 12, accused Messi and his father of not paying the correct taxes from revenue earned from image rights on the Barcelona and Argentina icon's income tax returns between the years 2007 and 2009.

If charged and found guilty, Messi and his father could face a fine amounting to 150pc of the concealed earnings and between two and six years in prison, although an out-of-court deal is another possible outcome.

Messi, currently on international duty in South America, last week expressed surprise at the complaint against him.

In a statement on his official Facebook page, he wrote: "We have never committed any infringement.

"We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying this situation."

The complaint accused Messi (25) and his father of using a network of shell companies in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay to avoid their tax obligations.

The alleged fraud, which involves three separate offences, was said to have commenced before Messi came of age and while his father was in charge of his financial affairs.

Messi is estimated to be the 10th highest paid athlete on the planet on around €15m a year – which is almost matched by the value of his endorsements.

Barcelona president Sandro Rosell last week insisted he was convinced of Lionel Messi's innocence, telling a press conference: "Messi's family is calm. They have all of our support. I do not doubt their innocence."

The court date may have implications for Barca, who could play their opening Champions League match of next season that evening. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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