Lionel Messi testifies in tax fraud trial

Saturday, 4 June 2016 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Soccer’s five-times World Player of the Year Lionel Messi arrived at a court in Barcelona on Thursday to testify against charges of tax evasion.

A few bypassers applauded the arrival of the Argentina and FC Barcelona player while several people shouted at him, but in contrast to when he appeared at a local court in 2013 to give evidence, there were no Barcelona supporters present.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, entered the court immediately without speaking to reporters.

The trial began on Tuesday although Messi missed the first and second day, which he was not obliged to attend, citing a back injury sustained in Argentina’s international friendly with Honduras last Friday.

Lionel and Jorge Horacio Messi are accused by the Spanish tax office of defrauding the government of 4.2 million euros ($4.7 million) between 2007 and 2009.

They could face jail terms of up to 22 months if found guilty, although it is customary in Spain that offenders of non-violent crime with a sentence of under two years do not serve time in jail.

The case centres on the player’s image rights and a web of shell companies allegedly used to evade taxes on income from those rights.

Tuesday’s hearing showed that Spain’s tax office made 20 inspections of Messi during its three-year investigation.

According to the prosecutors’ office, revenue was hidden using shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Messi and his father paid five million euros to the tax authorities as a “corrective” measure after being formally investigated in June 2013.