Messi due to go on trial in Spain for tax fraud

Pakistan Observer - - SPORTS -

BARCELONA—Ar­gentina star Lionel Messi, one of the world’s high­est-paid ath­letes, goes on trial in Barcelona on Tues­day for al­legedly de­fraud­ing Spain of over four mil­lion euros in un­paid taxes.

Af­ter win­ning a league and Cup dou­ble with Barcelona, the five-time World Player of the Year and his fa­ther will con­front in court the ac­cu­sa­tions that have dogged him since June 2013.

The trial will run un­til June 2 — the day

Ar­gentina take on de­fend­ing cham­pi­ons Chile in their first game of the tour­na­ment in Cal­i­for­nia on June 6.

Messi and his fa­ther, Jorge Ho­ra­cio Messi, are ac­cused of us­ing a chain of fake com­pa­nies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid pay­ing taxes on 4.16 mil­lion euros ($4.7 mil­lion) of Messi’s in­come earned through the sale of his im­age rights from 2007-09.

They have been charged with three counts of tax fraud.

Span­ish pros­e­cu­tors are seek­ing a jail sen­tence of 22-and-a-half months for Messi and his fa­ther if they are found guilty, plus fines equiv­a­lent to the amount that was al­legedly de­frauded.

But any such sen­tence would likely be sus­pended as it is com­mon in Spain for first of­fences car­ry­ing a sen­tence of less than two years.

Un­der Span­ish law, a de­fen­dant is not obliged to at­tend the full trial if pros­e­cu­tors seek a jail sen­tence of less than two years, which means Messi may only show up on June 2 for his tes­ti­mony.

The foot­ball star and his de­fence team have ar­gued that the player’s fa­ther han­dled his fi­nances with­out re­port­ing to him, and that the striker was not aware of any wrong­do­ing. “My dad han­dled the cash,” Messi said in Septem­ber 2013 when he was ques­tioned by a judge in­ves­ti­gat­ing the case at a court in Gavia, a town on the out­skirts of Barcelona where the foot­baller lives. The player’s fa­ther agreed. “He has noth­ing to do (with these is­sues), he only plays foot­ball,” Jorge Ho­ra­cio Messi said.

State pros­e­cu­tors ini­tially asked that the case against Messi be dropped, ar­gu­ing the player only fol­lowed the in­struc­tions of his fa­ther who he “trusted fully and blindly”.—AFP

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