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Barcelona judge throws out fraud case in 'Messi & Friends' matches

A Barcelona judge has thrown out the case alleging fraud in "Messi & Friends" exhibition matches, which were played in summer 2012 and 2013.

Spanish Guardia Civil investigators alleged that the friendlies, in which Barcelona star Lionel Messi's charitable foundation had a role, were used by Colombian drug traders to launder money.

According to Spanish news agency Efe, the judge, after hearing the police reports and witness accounts, decided that Messi and his nonprofit organisation had committed no defrauding of the public purse because of misappropriation of funds in ticket exchanges or any other fiscal benefits.

The case had been moved from Madrid to Barcelona because the 28-year-old lives in the Catalan capital, but the judge found no evidence of any foul play and noted that "it cannot even be determined whether there was any profit at all from the matches or whether [Messi's] Foundation benefitted at all. Neither can it be determined whether the sponsors returned any funds to the foundation."

"Messi & Friends" games were played in 2013 in Medellin (Colombia), Lima (Peru) and the U.S. cities of Chicago and Los Angeles. In summer 2012, a similar schedule saw matches in Bogota (Colombia), Cancun (Mexico) and Miami (U.S.).

A judge had taken testimony from businessman Guillermo Javier Marin, who organized the matches, Monday's statement said.

The statement said Marin had presented the judge with a "coherent explanation" relating to wire transfers totaling $1.37 million.

This is one of three cases of unpaid taxes that Messi has had to face.

Messi and three then-Blaugrana teammates -- Javier Mascherano, Jose Pinto and Daniel Alves -- reportedly gave testimony to Guardia Civil investigators gathering evidence in November 2013.

When reports of the investigation first surfaced in December 2013, Leo Messi Management released a statement stating that Jorge Messi, Lionel Messi's father, was not connected at all with the case -- and that the games had been organised by an unnamed third-party company, with Lionel just taking part on the pitch, and Jorge solely making sure some of the proceeds went to local NGOs.


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