Soccer icon Lionel Messi remains at risk of a criminal trial for tax evasion after a Spanish judge on Monday rejected prosecutors’ recommendation to shelve the case against the FC Barcelona striker.
While the prosecution eventually concluded that the blame for the tax-dodging scheme lay with the Argentine international’s father and agent, Jorge Messi, the magistrate said he was not convinced that Leo Messi knew nothing of his dad’s machinations.
The court in Gava, near Barcelona, gave prosecutors 10 days to decide whether they want to try the younger Messi or quash the charges against him.
Monday’s ruling referred to “sufficient indications” that the four-time world player of the year “could have known about and consented to” Jorge Messi’s move to create a “fictitious corporate structure” whose sole purpose was evading taxes.
Determining what, if any, involvement Leo Messi had in the illicit financial dealings is a matter for a trial, the judge wrote.
The father and son were charged in June 2013 with having concealed some of Leo Messi’s endorsement income on the player’s 2007, 2008 and 2009 tax returns.
Within weeks, Leo Messi paid 10 million euros ($13.2 million) in addendums to his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, which also were being investigated.
Messi and his father later paid 5 million euros ($6.6 million) to the Spanish treasury in back taxes for 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Prosecutors say Messi’s father arranged for Leo’s endorsement income to be transferred to shell corporations domiciled in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay.
Jorge Messi entrusted a third party to create an initial shell corporation for tax-evasion purposes when his son was still a minor, according to investigators.
Jorge has accepted full responsibility for the tax evasion, affirming that his son - now 27 - had no part in any effort to hide income.
Leo Messi said in court testimony last September that he leaves financial matters to his father.