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Lionel Messi's lawyer plans 'counter-attack' as tax trial begins

Lionel Messi's lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, speaks to reporters outside court.

Lionel Messi's lawyer said the strategy is "counter-attack" as the Barcelona and Argentina forward's trial for tax fraud began in Spain.

Prosecutors maintain that Messi and his father, Jorge, used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay, as well as shell companies in the UK and Switzerland, to avoid paying taxes totalling €4.1 million on earnings from image rights between 2007 and 2009.

The prosecutors have called for 22-month prison sentences for the two accused, although the imposition of a custodial sentence is reported to be highly unlikely.

Both Messi and his father deny any wrongdoing, and €5m has already been paid in arrears and extra charges.

Messi was not in court for the first day of the hearing in Barcelona on Tuesday, with his representatives reported to have said that the 28-year-old had planned to attend but the injury he picked up while playing for Argentina on Friday had delayed his return to Europe.

Speaking outside court Tuesday, his lawyer, Enrique Bacigalupo, was asked how he planned to approach the case. "We are on the counter-attack -- as they attack us, I will respond," he said

The Spanish revenue service, Fiscalia, initially decided that Messi did not have a case to answer, but another sector of the government, Abogacia del Estado, opted to continue with the charges.

El Pais reports that Bacigalupo and his colleagues sought to have the case thrown out on the first day of the hearings, but the presiding judge did not accept their request.

Messi hurt vs. Honduras
Lionel Messi's return to Barcelona for the case was reportedly delayed by the injury he sustained on Friday.

Messi and his father are due in the Barcelona court at 10 a.m. local time to answer questions on how his finances were arranged.

Bacigalupo added: "Leo is fine. He is very relaxed and on Thursday he will be here to give evidence."

Messi and his father appeared in court previously in the Catalan town of Gava in September 2013. The player has said he did not read contracts before signing them as he trusted his parents and financial advisors to check the details.

Once his legal obligations are completed in Spain, Messi is due to fly to the United States to re-join his Argentina teammates ahead of their Copa America Centenario opener against tournament holders Chile on June 7 in Santa Clara.

However, it has been reported that he could miss the game due to the rib injury he picked up against Honduras.

Speaking from the Argentina camp in California, Atletico Madrid midfielder Augusto Fernandez said: "We all hope Leo is better. We need him at his best, as he is. I hope it is nothing and he returns quickly."

Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan

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