Barcelona soccer player Lionel Messi and his father are due to appear in a Spanish court on Friday over tax fraud allegations, reports the BBC.
The 26-year-old Argentine and his father, Jorge, are accused of evading €4.2m in tax on earnings made from endorsements from his principal sponsors – Adidas, PepsiCo and Proctor & Gamble – and a number of other companies, reports the Guardian.
The prosecution alleges that they set up shell companies in Uruguay and Belize to avoid paying taxes in Spain, says the Guardian. Both men deny the charges, saying the deals were done by Messi’s former agent without their knowledge, the Guardian adds. The alleged crimes took place between 2007 and 2009.
In August, the two accused made a payment of €5m to the Spanish tax authorities (the €4.16m of the alleged unpaid tax plus interest) but this has not prevented the prosecution. The government has cracked down on tax evasion with the country in financial crisis, reports the Guardian.
The allegations are seen as a big blow to Messi’s prestige. He has long been seen as a more humble figure than many other top soccer players, says the BBC. He came to Barcelona as a young boy and went through the Spanish team’s youth system, the Guardian reports. Hailing from a modest background, he is widely recognized to be the best soccer player in the world and has been named World Player of the Year four times, adds the Guardian.
The striker and his father are expected to be questioned in a closed-court session in Gava – the affluent Barcelona district where Messi lives, reports the BBC. In an earlier statement Messi said that he and his father “have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled our tax obligations.”