BARCELONA, January 20 – Barcelona star Lionel Messi and his father’s trial for tax fraud will begin on May 31 at a court in Barcelona, a regional superior court said Wednesday.
Messi and his father Jorge have been charged with tax fraud for allegedly failing to declare 4.16 million euros ($4.69 million) in taxes related to his image rights between 2007 and 2009 through front companies in Belize and Uruguay.
The pair are accused of ceding the player’s image rights to the companies in order to avoid declaring money made from lucrative deals with sponsors in Spain.
Public prosecutors had asked for the case against the Argentine player to be dropped as they considered the alleged fraud was carried out by his father, who has managed his son’s affairs since he was a child.
But in October 2015 the judge in charge of the case rejected the request, writing in a court filing that “there are rational signs that the criminality was committed by both accused parties.”
Lawyers acting on behalf of the tax office have asked for both defendants to be slapped with prison sentences of 22 and a half months.
Both father and son have denied the accusations and instead blamed a former financial advisor.
Jorge Messi made a voluntary corrective payment of five million euros in August 2013 which is expected to mitigate any sentence.
Even if convicted it is unlikely that either Messi or his father would enter prison as jail terms of less than two years are usually suspended for first time offences in Spain.
The trial will run until June 3, the Catalan Superior Court of Justice said in a statement, which means it will not interfere with Barcelona’s committment since La Liga and the Champions League will have wrapped up by then.
But it could complicate Messi’s participation in the three-week centenary Copa America which gets underway on June 3, although Argentina’s first match is on June 6.
Messi earlier this month won a record Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player after helping Barcelona to a treble last season of the Champions League, La Liga and the Spanish Cup.
Last month Messi and his father were cleared of separate allegations relating to charitable friendlies played in 2012 and 2013 after a judge heard testimony from an Argentine businessman who organised the matches.
The player had been investigated in that case to see if he had failed to declare to the tax man any revenue made from taking part in a series of friendlies in Mexico, Colombia, the United States and Peru.