South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
Messi appears in court over tax evasion allegations
By Miles Johnson in Madrid
Lionel Messi, the Barcelona and Argentina footballer, appeared in a Spanish court on Friday to defend himself against allegations of evading €4.2m of taxes related to the four-time world player of the year’s image rights and sponsorships.
The 26-year old forward, whose prolific scoring for Barcelona has won him recognition as one of the best footballers of his generation, has been accused by prosecutors alongside his father, Jorge, of using a complex network of shell companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying Spanish taxes on the earnings.
On Friday the player arrived at a closed court session in the Catalan city of Gavà to be greeted by cheering supporters, as well as the odd cry of “thief” from the crowd before entering the courthouse to testify.
Mr Messi, often celebrated as a hero in his adopted Catalonia, has denied the alleged offences alongside his father, which are said to have taken place between 2007 and 2009.
The player and his father earlier this year paid back €5m to the Spanish state as a “corrective payment” after being accused of filing false tax returns, but denied having committed any wrongdoing, linking the establishment of the network of offshore companies to a former agent.
The pair had said in a previous statement when the allegations emerged: “We have always fulfilled our tax obligations following the advice of our tax consultants who will take care of clarifying this situation.”
Messi, who is ranked the 10th highest earning athlete in the world by Forbes magazine, had earned the bulk of the money from sponsors Adidas and Pepsi, alongside other companies.
The emergence of the Messi tax case is a rare instance of a player with a reputation for being softly spoken and private attracting attention off the playing field.
The Barcelona forward was plucked by the Catalan club’s scouting network from Argentina at the age of 11 in return for it paying for the young player’s treatment for a growth hormone deficiency, later making his debut for the first team at 17 years old.
He went on to become the leading star in a Barcelona side that won three Champion’s League trophies, and the team’s all-time leading scorer in official competitions and sixth highest in the history of the Spanish league.
The emergence of Messi at Barcelona coincided with the arrival of the Portuguese player Cristiano Ronaldo at arch rivals Real Madrid, with the pair boosting the international audiences of the Spanish league as they have vied to outscore each other.
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013. You may share using our article tools. Please don't cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.