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Latino Daily News

Monday June 17, 2013

Spain May Expand Scope of Lionel Messi’s Tax Fraud Investigation

Spain May Expand Scope of Lionel Messi’s Tax Fraud Investigation

Photo: Lionel Messi Tax Problems

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Spain’s tax agency may expand an investigation of FC Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi that has already led to charges against the 25-year-old Argentine, judicial sources told Efe.

Messi stands accused of defrauding the Spanish state of some 4.1 million euros ($5.5 million) in taxes on income from endorsements that he allegedly failed to report on his 2007, 2008 and 2009 tax returns.

Authorities could decide to scrutinize the player’s 2010, 2011 and 2012 returns to determine whether the alleged under-reporting of income continued, the sources said.

The tax agency last week filed a criminal complaint against the striker and his father and agent, Jorge Horacio Messi, contending that the older man began laying the groundwork for the ostensible evasion scheme in 2005, when Lionel was still a minor.

Jorge Messi arranged to transfer revenues from countries where large sums were paid for use of the player’s image to shell corporations domiciled in tax havens, tax officials say.

The tax agency filed suit with a court in the Barcelona suburb of Gava, but the judge has yet to decide whether the case will go forward.

Lionel Messi has retained one of Barcelona’s top criminal defense attorneys, Cristobal Martell, to represent him, court sources told Efe.

Messi and his father have the option of negotiating with the tax agency to regularize their situation. If the case goes to trial, however, any such accord would require the approval of prosecutors.

The Barça forward could also avoid a trial if his father were to accept sole responsibility for the alleged tax evasion, the court sources told Efe.

Lionel Messi released a statement last Wednesday denying the accusations.

“We have always fulfilled all of our tax obligations, following the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying this situation,” the player said on his Facebook page.

Tax fraud is punishable in Spain by up to six years in prison.