Sunday 8 December 2019

Messi says he 'never asked about the money'

Lionel Messi appears at the court in Barcelona. Photo: AP
Lionel Messi appears at the court in Barcelona. Photo: AP

Dean Gray in Barcelona

FOOTBALL superstar Lionel Messi has denied ever having had any knowledge of how his financial matters were handled.

He was giving testimony in court in response to tax fraud accusations.

Along with his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, the Argentinian footballing star (28) faces a jail sentence of just over 22 months if found guilty of defrauding the Spanish state of €4.16 million in unpaid tax on earnings between 2007 and 2009.

"I knew nothing about the money. I just concentrated on playing football - I trusted my father", the FC Barcelona player said when asked on Thursday about the complex series of shell companies which allegedly helped the Messis conceal earnings on the sale of his image rights.

Asked in the Barcelona court if he knew that the money went from Switzerland to Britain before being transferred to companies the Messis set up in Uruguay and Belize, the player replied: "No, I didn't know that.

"I knew we signed agreements with various sponsors who paid X amount of money, and that I had to do adverts, photographs and all that stuff - but I had no idea where the money was going."

Messi said that he did not ask his lawyers anything about the contracts he occasionally had to sign, nor had he ever inquired about taxation, adding: "I signed them because I trust my dad. At no time did it occur to me that he might deceive me".

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner said he knew "nothing" about the business based on his spiralling fame as a football star. "Honestly, I was never interested in that," he claimed.

As well as his co-defendant father, Messi was accompanied by his brother Rodrigo, his physiotherapist, and members of staff from FC Barcelona and his own foundation as he arrived at the court.

On Wednesday, several consultants who had advised the Messis over the years agreed that the details of contracts and business decisions were never explained to the player.

Angel Juarez, whose legal firm has advised the Messi family since 2006, said that "no one consulted [with the footballer] on any matter".

Another member of the firm, Inigo Juarez, said that the functions of the different companies handling the player's money was never explained to him.

"A few times he signed documents in front of me and all he said was 'Is it all ok?'," he said. "I answered 'Yes, it's all fine. Your father has given it the all-clear'."

The trial will end tomorrow and the verdict is expected in the next two months. Even if he is found guilty, he is unlikely to be sent to jail, as first-time offenders routinely have their sentences suspended for minor crimes with terms of less than two years.

Irish Independent

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