Lionel Messi will stand trial for tax fraud in Spain, a Spanish court ruled on Thursday. The Argentine international and his father, Jorge, are accused to defrauding Spanish tax authorities of more than $5 million, accusations both parties deny.
Despite prosecutors requesting charges be dropped, a judge has ruled that “rational signs that the criminality was committed by both accused parties” justified holding the case for trial. While no trial date has been set, attorneys representing the Spain’s tax authorities will seek 22-month jail sentences for both Messi and his father.
Messi is one of a number of stars playing in Spain to be targeted by the country’s authorities. Both Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano face questions regarding the selling of image rights to foreign companies, speculated to reduce their tax burden within Spain. Another of Messi’s teammates, Brazilian star Neymar, is also being investigate dby the Spanish government, with a Brazilian court recently freezing $47 million in assets as part of investigations into his move from Santos to Barcelona.
Like Alonso and Mascherano, Messi’s troubles stem from the handling of his image rights, with his father, managing his finances, using companies in Belize and Uruguay to lessen his son’s tax burden. Deals with Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter and Gamble, among other companies where managed outsize of Spain, attempting to leave revenue earned from his time in Barcelona outside the jurisdiction of Spanish authorities.
The Spanish government is now prosecuting these moves as tax evasion. As a result, Messi and his father had made a voluntary $3.75 million payment to tax authorities in Aug. 2013 – then equal to the disputed tax debt plus interest.
Despite that payment, tax authorities have persisted. This June, Messi’s lawyers attempted to excuse their client from prosecution on the basis his father managed his finances. Instead, a high court in Barcelona rules Messi could not be exempt merely because he was ignorant to what his father did with his finances.
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