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Messi tax fraud claims 'a mistake'

ESPN staff
June 13, 2013 « Live County Championship coverage | Chartbeat test »
A lawyer explains the Lionel Messi tax fraud case

Lionel Messi's father Jorge says claims that his son has defrauded the Spanish state of more than €4 million in taxes are "a mistake".

It emerged in the Catalan media on Wednesday that tax authorities in Barcelona were to bring a case against both Messis over unpaid taxes between 2007 and 2009, with the prosecutor in the case claiming to El Periodico that front companies in tax havens had been used to hide image rights payments from the authorities' view.

Jorge, named in the claim as Lionel was a minor in 2007, told AS that he did not understand how such a case could be brought, but he was sure his son's legal and financial experts would sort it out.

"This is all a mistake," he said. "It should have been spoken about with the accountants and legal people, who will clear it up. I have already spoken with our lawyers so that they resolve this, but I do not understand anything that is happening. I do not look after these matters, I am a resident of Argentina."

Jorge added there had been no need to discuss the developments with his son, who is currently on international duty.

"I have not yet spoken with Leo, I do not need to as this is a mistake," he said. "Why would I go and scare him?"

Under Spanish law tax prosecutors first build a case, then take it to a judge who decides if charges should be brought. Messi's Catalan legal advisors Juarez Veneciana said on Wednesday evening that they had not yet received any notice of a pending problem, having only heard something might be up through the media.

"We want to express our surprise at the news published in the media, given that neither our client nor ourselves have received any notification from the tax authorities in relation to what has been published," a spokesperson told Marca.

"[Messi] has always followed punctually his tax obligations and will continue to do so in future. As his legal and tax advisors, we will take all the appropriate legal actions against the claim from the tax authorities and we trust fully in justice."

While more sensational parts of the Spanish media have rushed to point out that tax fraud carries a potential jail sentence of six years, such a punishment is very unlikely in this case.

In recent years a large number of sportspeople, including Luis Figo, Davor Suker, Lass Diarra, Samuel Eto'o, Rafael Nadal and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario have had their tax situations investigated. Figo, Suker and Sanchez Vicario were all ordered to make payments including penalties.

El Pais say that Eto'o's case, from 2006 to 2009, is most similar to Messi's alleged one as it involved image rights revenues being paid via companies outside Spain while he played at Barcelona. The Cameroon international - now at Anzhi Makhachkala - has blamed his ex-agent for badly advising him. That case has yet to be ruled upon.

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