Football star Messi pleads ignorance at tax fraud trial

Football star Messi pleads ignorance at tax fraud trial

Messi and his father, who are accused of dodging more than $4.6M in tax money, face trial in Barcelona

By Alyssa McMurtry

MADRID (AA) - Football superstar Lionel Messi pleaded ignorance at his tax fraud trial in Barcelona on Thursday, according to Spanish media reports.

Messi and his father stand accused of dodging more than €4.1 million ($4.6 million) worth of taxes.

Local media outlet El Pais quoted Messi as telling the courtroom in Spanish: “I just played football. I signed the contracts because I trusted my dad and in no moment did it pass through my head that he would trick me.”

Messi’s testimony lasted around 15 minutes. He only answered questions from his lawyer and gave short answers, reiterating that he had “no idea” of what happened to his earnings.

The footballer and his father Jorge Messi face up to 22 months in prison and fines for allegedly using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to hide his earnings from the Spanish government between 2007 and 2009.

Jorge Messi denied the charges in court and blamed his lawyers and advisers since, he claimed, he knew only the “basic Chinese” of economic and legal matters.

“I was just in charge of going once in a while or calling because I didn’t understand any of it,” he said, according to El Pais.

The court is expected to make a decision sometime next week. Even if found guilty, the Spanish media pointed out that it was unlikely that Messi would spend time in prison because Spanish courts tend to reduce or drop prison-time for first time offenders.

Although not related to this trial, Messi was also named in the Panama Papers, which refers to large number documents that revealed prominent personalities worldwide with offshore companies.

Spanish media alleged that the Panama Papers showed that Messi had “set up a tax fraud network.”

El Confidential, an online news source, published documents showing that Messi had set up an offshore company, Mega Star Enterprises, the day after he was indicted for dodging taxes by Spanish authorities in June 2013.

In 2013, when the formal investigation began, Messi and his father made a voluntary €5 million ($5.6 million) payment 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.

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