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Barcelona's Lionel Messi, father will stand tax trial; face 22-month sentence

Barcelona star Lionel Messi and his father Jorge are to both stand trial for three counts of tax fraud against the Spanish tax authorities with the state attorney demanding a 22-month prison sentence, according to court documents made public on Thursday.

Messis Sr and Jr are each accused of defrauding Spain's tax office of €4.1 million ($4.5m) in unpaid taxes from 2007-09.

Earlier this week it was reported that Barcelona prosecutors had cleared the Blaugrana player, alleging that he had been unaware of actions taken on his behalf by his father. However, Spanish news agency EFE and France-based agency AFP are among the outlets reporting that this move has been over-ruled by a higher state authority and the case will progress as before.

Spanish sports daily AS and news agency Reuters report that prosecutors will push for the full 22-month sentence for the pair when the trial is held at the Vilanova i la Geltru district in Barcelona.

Messi Jr, who is currently sidelined by injury and unlikely to play again until late November, is likely to be called as a witness when the trial eventually takes place.

Since the Messis both appeared in court in the Catalan town of Gava in September 2013, a number of different rulings have been made by judges in both Madrid and Barcelona, with the family's lawyers and state tax officials taking different various legal steps which have either stalled or advanced the proceedings at various intervals.

The high-profile case has been taken as Spain's tax authorities maintain that image rights payments made to the player have been channelled through offshore tax-havens, leading to the evasion of €4.1m in taxes between 2007 and 2009. If found guilty, both Messis could be heavily fined and face prison sentences of up to 22 months.

Lionel Messi and father Jorge have already appeared in court at an earlier stage of the case.

At the Gava hearing almost two years ago, the Argentina captain said that he did not look after the details of his own finances, leaving such matters to his father and advisors. Messi Sr reportedly told the court that he would take responsibility for any wrongdoing, that the family had been misled by unscrupulous financial advisors, and were now happy to correct any wrongdoings they had unintentionally committed.

Since news of the issue broke during the summer of 2013, the Messis have reportedly paid €5m to the authorities, to cover money owed from the 2007 to 2009 period, plus interest. They are also reported to have paid €10m in taxes due on such income for the years 2010 and 2011.

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