Friday 19 January 2018

Lionel Messi's tax fraud trial draws to a close

Lionel Messi, left, leaves the court in Barcelona (AP)
Lionel Messi, left, leaves the court in Barcelona (AP)

Lionel Messi's tax fraud trial has concluded with a public prosecutor calling for the footballer's acquittal and the government prosecutor renewing his demand for a conviction.

The four-day trial ended in Barcelona with both prosecutors contending that Messi's father, Jorge Horacio Messi, was the main person responsible for defrauding Spain's tax authority of 4.1 million euro (£3.1 million) from 2007-09.

However, the legal representative for the tax office said the Barcelona star knew enough to also be held accountable.

He called for a prison sentence of 22 months each for both Messi and his father, while the public prosecutor requested a sentence of 18 months for the father only.

They are not likely to face any jail time even if found guilty, but could be fined and made to forfeit possible future tax benefits.

Messi and his father appeared in court on Thursday and denied any wrongdoing. Both said the player was unaware of the tax issues that led to the fraud charges.

A verdict and sentencing could be announced as early as next week, but it is expected to take longer for a decision to be made.

"Messi should be acquitted," public prosecutor Raquel Amado said in her closing arguments. "The fraud occurred because of a decision of his father. There is no evidence Messi was aware of it."

Government prosecutor Mario Maza said Messi and his father did not prove their innocence and were not able to show that the player did not have at least some knowledge of the corporate structures created to lower his tax burden in Spain.

"Messi knew more than he made it appear (in court)," Mr Maza said, adding that they "showed no credibility".

Messi and his father refused to answer questions from Mr Maza when they gave evidence on Thursday, speaking only when quizzed by the public prosecutor, who had already called for Messi's acquittal before the trial began.

Tax inspectors said they found evidence that Messi's father used companies in countries such as Uruguay, Switzerland and Belize to pay fewer taxes on the player's income from image rights. Messi's father said he was told by a legal adviser that the practice was legal.

Because of the trial, Messi has missed part of Argentina's preparations for the Copa America in the United States. He has left Spain to join his teammates ahead of the team's first match against defending champions Chile on Monday.

Press Association

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