The trial of Barcelona star Lionel Messi over tax fraud charges begins today, Tuesday, May 31, 2016.
The 28-year-old Argentine captain and his father Jorge Horacio Messi, are accused of using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on $4.7 million through the sale of his image rights from 2007-2009.
This is coming just days before Argentina’s first match in the Copa America tournament against Chile.
They have both denied the allegations, due to appear in the Barcelona court on Thursday, according to a judicial document.
They are charged with three counts of tax fraud. Spanish tax agency is demanding the payment of a fine equivalent to the $4.7 million allegedly defrauded and a sentence of 22 months and 15 days for both Messi and his father.
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.
Messi had planned to be in Barcelona for the start of the trial but a lower back injury he suffered during a friendly against Honduras last week prevented him from doing so, defence lawyer Javier Sanchez-Vera said at the start of the proceedings.
Messi’s defence team have argued that the player’s father handled his finances without reporting to him, noting 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.
He reportedly told the judge at that hearing that he never looks at the contracts he signs.
“I signed things, but I never look at the contracts. I don’t know what I sign,” Messi said according to the El Periodico daily, which got access to his September 2013 statement to the judge.
“This is something that my dad manages. And I trust him. I devote myself to playing football,” he reportedly said.
“I do what he tells me to do.”
The income related to Messi’s image rights that was allegedly hidden includes endorsement deals with Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.
Things became complicated for the Barcelona star last month, as both he and his father were among those named in reports by international media who received data and documents leaked from a law firm based in Panama.
According to the report, the two men opened a company in Panama in June 2013, just after the allegations of tax fraud broke, to continue to hide income earned from image rights from Spanish tax authorities, Spanish news site El Espanol reported.
The Messi family acknowledged the existence of the company but they said it was “totally inactive” and never had any funds.
The trial is expected to last three days, with Messi expected to give testimony on Thursday.