Barcelona striker Lionel Messi has denied any wrongdoing after it was reported that both he and his father are being sued by the Spanish authorities for millions of euros in unpaid taxes related to the player's image rights.
Barcelona's El Periodico said the attorney involved has told the newspaper that Messi and his father Jorge deliberately hid commercial revenues from the Spanish authorities from 2006 through to 2009 by channelling the income through front companies in tax havens.
The paper reports the amount owed as €13 million, though other media has the figure being sought by the authorities as €4 million.
But now Messi has issued a statement on his Facebook page to deny the claims.
It read: "We have just known through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities. We are surprised about the news, because we have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying this situation."
Jorge Messi told Marca: "I am very surprised but all this will be cleared up because we have never let left aside the fulfillment of our tax obligations."
The paper quotes its source as saying the alleged tax dodge "consisted of simulating the assignment of image rights to front companies based in tax havens [Belize, Uruguay] and, at the same time, formalising contracts of licensing, agency or benefit from services between these companies, and other such instruments domiciled in convenient jurisdictions [the UK, Switzerland]. This was done with the intended and successful aim that the incomes would move from countries where the companies or entities were based, to companies domiciled in tax havens, without being submitted to any taxation and, furthermore, with total opacity towards the Spanish Tax Authorities. The beneficiary of these incomes was no other than the person served - Lionel A. Messi".
The suit was presented before a judge on Wednesday morning in the Catalan town of Gava, where the Barcelona player is legally domiciled for tax purposes.
According to Forbes, Messi is the tenth best paid sportsperson in the world, with total annual earnings of $41.3 million, which include $21 million earned through endorsements from his various sponsors.
The Argentine - reigning four-time World Player of the Year - is currently on holiday in South America, having made his final appearance of the 2012-13 season as a substitute in Tuesday's 1-1 World Cup 2014 qualifier draw in Quito against Ecuador.