Lionel Messi's prosecutor says 'Even 10-year-old children' know to pay taxes
A prosecutor for the Spanish government has said he does not believe the evidence submitted by Lionel Messi in his tax-fraud trial in court this week, saying that "even 10-year-old children" know taxes must be paid.
A Barcelona court has been hearing a case brought by prosecutors who maintain that Messi and his father Jorge used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay, and shell companies in the UK and Switzerland, to avoid paying taxes totalling €4.1 million on earnings from image rights between 2007 to 2009.
The government prosecutor has called for a 22-month jail sentences for both of the accused -- although neither would serve any time in prison even should they be found guilty -- while a public prosecutor requested a sentence of 18 months for the father only.
The four-day trial ended on Friday, and the verdict and sentences could be announced next week, although it is likely that the final deliberation will take considerably longer.
At one point, the Barcelona player was set to avoid facing any charges as the public prosecutor representing the Spanish revenue service Fiscalia initially accepted that he had no knowledge of any wrongdoing.
However, another sector of the government, Abogacia del Estado, decided to continue with the charges.
Lionel Messi admitted in court on Thursday that he signed many documents without reading their contents, and visited a notary's office to go through with setting up a company to handle his finances without really understanding what was being done in his name.
On Friday, Abogacia del Estado representative Mario Maza said the Argentina captain's claims that he just did not understand how the system worked were not acceptable, as even children knew taxes have to be paid in full.
"It could be that they are inexperienced with tax matters and the law, and are not able to set up their own companies, but they are able to understand what paying your taxes means," said Maza, who admitted in court to being a Barcelona fan.
"Even 10-year-old children understand that. And Messi would have to be able to understand that without any problem. In no way am I comparing this kid to a mafioso, but this is the same as a 'capo' of a criminal network."
The court heard during the week that Messi had signed away all his image rights to an overseas company earlier in his career for a nominal amount, and Maza said they should have asked more questions if they did not understand what was happening.
"[Leo] told us that he did not read the documents," Maza said. "I do not believe that, especially as they [Leo and Jorge] visited a notary. Furthermore, they get him to ratify a contract in which he hands over his rights for $50,000. And he does not object at all?
"Even if they were not interested in such matters, surely they would ask some questions? If when the notary begins to read, and [Leo] Messi does not understand, the notary will explain it for him. He knew more than he let on in court."
Messi and his father refused to answer questions from Maza when they testified on Thursday, speaking only when quizzed by the public prosecutor, the Fiscalia's representative, Raquel Amado.
Amado on Friday stuck to the argument that only Jorge should be found guilty, saying there was no evidence that Leo knew that a crime was being committed.
"[Leo] Messi should be acquitted," Amado said in her closing arguments. "The fraud occurred because of a decision of his father. There is no evidence Messi was aware of it."
When news of the investigation first broke in summer 2013, the Messis paid over €5m in arrears and extra charges. They are also believed to have paid €10m in taxes due on the image rights income for the years 2010 and 2011.
Because of the trial, Messi has missed part of Argentina's preparations for the Copa America, which starts later on Friday in the United States.
He joined his national teammates later on Friday in San Jose, California, and team physician Daniel Martinez said, "We are happy with how Messi is progressing" from an injury to his ribs and lower back picked up last week in a friendly against Honduras.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.