By Alyssa McMurtry
MADRID (AA) - The tax fraud trial of legendary footballer Lionel Messi kicked off Tuesday in a Barcelona courtroom.
Messi and his father Jorge are both facing up to 22 months in prison for allegedly dodging €4.1 million ($4.6 million) worth of taxes in Spain between 2007 and 2009. They are accused of using shell companies in fiscal paradises to avoid paying taxes on endorsement money from Messi’s sponsors like Pepsi and Adidas.
“Our strategy is to counter-attack,” said Messi’s lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, walking into the courthouse Tuesday morning.
Neither of the accused appeared in court Tuesday due to Messi, 28, getting injured a football match last week, said the defense. However, Messi and his father have every intention of showing up for the trial Thursday, when they are expected to testify, the defense told the court.
Messi and his father both deny the charges, arguing that the famous FC Barcelona football star left the money management to others.
“I didn’t read the contracts or the papers I signed or anything,” said Messi in court testimony in 2013.
Even if convicted, it is unlikely that Messi will spend any time in prison, according to Spanish daily El Mundo, because Spanish law favors first-time offenders.
In 2013, when the formal investigation began, Messi and his father paid €5 million ($5.6 million) to the Spanish tax authorities as a “corrective” measure.
Messi is the world’s fourth-highest paid athlete, and in 2015 earned $73.8 million between contracts and endorsements, according to Forbes.
Messi, Argentinian-born, has lived in Barcelona since 2000 and has been a Spanish citizen since 2005.