Lionel Messi in court to testify in tax fraud case
ABS-CBN Sports on Jun 02, 2016 06:31 PM
Barcelona soccer player Lionel Messi, center, arrives at a court in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, June 2, 2016. Messi's tax trial began Tuesday. Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud. They could be sentenced to nearly two years in prison if found guilty of defrauding Spain's tax authority of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million) from 2007-09. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
TALES AZZONI, AP Sports Writer
BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Lionel Messi and his father were in court Thursday to defend themselves from tax fraud charges.
Wearing a dark suit and tie, Messi sat alongside his father in front of the judge during early proceedings in the third day of the trial. They listened to other testimony while waiting to be called to testify.
Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, are facing three counts of tax fraud and could be sentenced to nearly two years in prison if found guilty of defrauding Spain's tax authority of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million) from 2007-09. They are not likely to face any jail time but could be fined and made to forfeit possible future tax benefits. Both deny wrongdoing, and the money owed was already paid back.
Hundreds of journalists and a few onlookers were in front of the Barcelona court house when Messi and his father arrived. Authorities had prepared a special operation to control the crowd and protect the player. Some people showed their support to Argentina star, while a few yelled words against him, including asking him to "give the money back" and telling him to "go play in Panama."
Messi was also being investigated by Spanish tax authorities after his name was among those released in the probe of international offshore accounts, known as the Panama Papers, although he was not charged for those allegations.
Because of the trial, the Barcelona player has missed part of Argentina's preparations for the Copa America, which starts Friday in the United States.
The trial is centered on alleged unlawful activities of Messi's father, but authorities said the player knew enough to also be named in the case. Officials said that although Messi was mostly unfamiliar with tax issues, there was sufficient evidence to believe he could have known and consented to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights.
On Wednesday, Messi's lawyers tried to show the court that the Barcelona forward was not familiar with the tax issues that led to the fraud charges. Witnesses called to testify said Messi had little knowledge of the alleged corporate structures that authorities say were created to lower the player's tax burden in Spain.
Messi is the latest high-profile player to have to deal with Spain's tough tax system. Neymar, Javier Mascherano, Adriano and Xabi Alonso also were targeted by authorities recently.
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