Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - Page 20 News List

Barcelona’s Messi answers questions in tax fraud case

AP, GAVA, Spain

Barcelona player Lionel Messi, right, and his brother, Rodrigo, arrive at the courthouse in Gava near Barcelona, Spain, yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Lionel Messi and his father appeared before a Spanish judge to answer questions in a multimillion-euro tax fraud case yesterday.

Messi gave answers for about half an hour after his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, was questioned. After they were whisked away in separate cars, Lionel Messi’s lawyer spoke outside the courthouse No. 3 in Gava, an easygoing coastal town just south of Barcelona near the player’s residence.

“The Messi family has wanted that we act with transparency, clarity and with a sense of cooperation, and that is how things went today as well,” said Cristobal Martell, Lionel Messi’s lawyer. “It was evident that there was little intent of committing fraud, and a great willingness to normalize the situation with the tax office and to not get involved in a fierce battle with the state in an attempt to interpret the current tax regulations.”

A complaint lodged by a Spanish state prosecutor in June said Lionel Messi and his father tried to conceal earnings from the player’s image rights. The complaint alleged the Argentina international owed 4 million euros (US$5.3 million) in back taxes from 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Lionel Messi’s father made a payment of more than 5 million euros on Aug. 14 to cover alleged back taxes and interest. That payment led the court to decide that neither Lionel Messi nor his father needed to post bail.

Yesterday’s hearing was to see if there are clear indications of illegality. If so, then the judge could recommend that the case be prosecuted, barring an out-of-court settlement.

If the case goes to trial, and Lional Messi and his father are found guilty, they could face a fine reaching 150 percent of the amount of back taxes and possible prison time.

In the complaint, state prosecutor Raquel Amado alleges that from 2006 to 2009 Lionel Messi “obtained significant revenue derived from the transfer to third parties of his image rights, income which should have been taxed.”

The complaint says Lionel Messi “circumvented his tax obligations” by using shell companies in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay.

Lionel Messi and his father have always denied any wrongdoing.

Lionel Messi, wearing a suit, but no tie, arrived looking relaxed and smiling at the courthouse an hour after his father. Upon leaving, several fans chanted the player’s name and a few teenagers chased his car as it sped away down a sunny street.

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