Lionel Messi denies tax fraud charges
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has released a statement denying any wrongdoing after reports claiming the Spanish tax authorities are investigating allegations he and his father defrauded the state of $5.3 million.
Reports have emerged alleging the four-time reigning World Player of the Year and his father, Jorge Horacio, were suspected of filing fraudulent tax returns between 2007 and 2009.
The 25-year-old Argentina international, currently on international duty in South America, swiftly insisted he had done nothing wrong, though, in a statement on his official Facebook page.
It read: "We have just known through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities. We are surprised about the news, 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."
Messi arrived at the Nou Camp as a 13-year-old in 2000, made his first-team debut three years later and has gone on to establish himself as one of football's best ever players. He has won six Primera Division titles, three Champions League crowns and two FIFA Club World Cups with the Catalan giants, and in 2012 netted a record 86 goals for club and country.
A judge at the court must accept the prosecutor's complaint before charges can be brought against Messi and his father.
Sports finance analyst at the University of Navarra, Professor Sandalio Gomez, said that if found guilty of evading tax on his image rights, Messi could be liable to a fine amounting to 150 percent of the earnings concealed. A guilty verdict would not carry a jail sentence, Gomez said.
Former Portugal star Luis Figo was last year forced to pay 2.45 million euros in income tax from his time at Barcelona. The tax authorities said the money was due from the 1997-1999 period and pertained to his image rights.
Gregor Reiter, a German attorney specializing in sports law, said Messi's difficulties show ''how important it is for athletes to have excellent and highly-trained counsellors and agents'' to handle their financial affairs, as player payments often travel across international borders and complicate tax assessments.
Stefan Szymanski, the Stephen J. Galetti Professor of Sport Management in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Michigan, said the case appeared more political than football-related as tax authorities looked to make an example of Messi.
''I think it's grandstanding,'' he said. ''They see it as a demonstration effect - everybody takes notice. Everybody thinks, I'd better pay my taxes.''
The complaint was filed a day after Messi played in Argentina's 1-1 draw against Ecuador in a World Cup qualifier in Quito.
The Associated Press was used in this report.