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TAX EVASION

Barcelona soccer star Leo Messi to face trial over €4.1m tax fraud

Court turns down appeal, saying there is evidence to suggest player benefited from scheme

Messi leaves court after appearing before a judge over tax fraud allegations in September 2013.

Soccer star Leo Messi is to face trial for alleged tax fraud after a Barcelona court turned down an appeal made by his lawyers aimed at avoiding him having to sit in the dock.

The Barcelona Provincial High Court believes there is evidence that the Argentinean forward “benefited” from a network of companies that allowed him to defraud the Spanish Tax Agency of €4.1 million in income tax, regardless of whether or not he had knowledge of the structures in place.

The decision means that Messi and his father remain under investigation for three counts of tax fraud

The court stressed that, in any case, now was not the moment to decide whether or not the player was aware of the fraud scheme and that such a decision should be left for the hearing.

The decision, which was made public on Wednesday, means that Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, remain under investigation for three counts of tax fraud committed in the tax years 2007, 2008 and 2009.

Messi senior is alleged to have created the network of companies when Messi was still a minor. It was used to simulate the handing over of the player’s image rights, thus allowing him to pay less tax on the multi-million-euro advertising contracts he landed.

Messi’s defense argued that the player had “never devoted a minute of his life to reading, studying or analyzing” the contracts.

But the judges responded that Messi ratified the contracts once he turned 18 and his name appeared as the sole administrator of one of the companies.

Although the state attorney had been in favor of exonerating the player, the Tax Agency insisted that he should be prosecuted.

The court argued that lack of knowledge of the financial network in place should not mean impunity for someone who benefits from a structure that assists fraud, even if it has been designed and organized by others.