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Tax fraud trial against Lionel Messi opens in Spain

The tax fraud trial against footballer Lionel Messi and his father has begun in Spain. The Barcelona star is accused of defrauding the government of millions of euros.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, did not appear at the Madrid court when their trial opened on Tuesday.

Messi is set to captain the Argentine national team at this summer's Copa America in the United States, and is currently with the squad. They open the tournament on June 6 against Chile.

He and his father are set to take the stand on Thursday, however.

Spain's tax office has accused Messi, a five-time FIFA World Player of the Year, and his father of defrauding the government of 4.2 million euros ($4.67 million) from 2007 to 2009.

Late last year,

a court previously ruled that Messi, 28, could have known about and approved the creation of series of shell companies

allegedly used to evade income taxes on revenue generated from the sale of his image rights.

Messi and his defense team have argued that his father handled his financial affairs and that he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing. He reportedly told a judge in 2013 that he does not look at the contracts he signs, and that his father "handles the cash."

Prosecutors have proposed jail sentences of up to 22.5 months and fines equal to the amount that was allegedly defrauded. Messi and his father paid authorities five million euros ($5.56 million) as a "corrective" measure after being formally investigated in 2013.

Any potential jail term is likely to be suspended, which is common practice in Spain for first offense cases carrying sentences of less than two years.

dr/pfd (Reuters, AFP, SID)

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