Four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and his father have said they are "surprised" at allegations of tax fraud submitted by public prosecutors in Catalonia. Messi is said to owe millions in back taxes.
Public prosecutor Raquel Amado in the Catalan seaside resort of Gava near Lionel Messi's home filed the charges on Wednesday. Amado accused Messi and his father of defrauding the regional tax office of around 4 million euros ($5.3 million) between 2007 and 2009, saying it related to supplementary earnings Messi raked in on image rights.
"We are surprised," Messi said on his Facebook account on Wednesday, "because we have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advice of our tax consultants who will take care of clarifying this situation."
Under Spanish law, a judge at the court must accept the charges before a formal case can be brought against Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi.
Amado alleged that Messi's father claimed his son's image rights were ceded to companies in tax havens like Uruguay and Belize "in order to avoid paying taxes in Spain." The prosecutor said such image rights over the three-year period "have hardly been taxed at all… Relevant information has been omitted from their tax declarations with the objective of preventing the tax authorities from knowing about the ceding of these image rights to overseas companies."
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Jorge Horacio Messi has acted as one of the footballer's agents ever since the striker made his Barcelona debut as a 16-year-old in 2004.
Messi is the most famous footballer on the planet, and most likely one of the best-paid. He is Barcelona's all-time record goal scorer and has won the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the past four consecutive seasons. Still just 25 years old, he turns 26 on June 24. Messi has competed in 75 matches for Argentina.
Despite struggling with injury late in the season, Messi again topped the scoring charts this season in Spain's La Liga, scoring more than a goal per game and helping Barcelona lift the league title. The same injury forced Messi to sit out much of Barcelona's 7-0 aggregate drubbing against Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinals.
He recently extended his Barcelona contract through the summer of 2018. According to Forbes Magazine, Messi earns just over $20 million per year as his Barcelona salary, but rakes around $21 million more in endorsements and sponsorship deals – putting him in Forbes' top 10 sports earners around the world.
msh/ccp (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)