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Jun 20, 2013

Messi, father 'charged for tax fraud'

Barcelona star Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge, have been indicted on tax fraud charges and a court hearing has been scheduled for September 17, according to El Pais.

Public prosecutor Raquel Amado filed a complaint at a Barcelona district court on June 12 alleging that the reigning, four-time World Player of the Year evaded €4.2 million in tax between 2007 and 2009, the Spanish newspaper reports.

Messi has denied any wrongdoing - as has his father - and his lawyers issued a statement last week saying that he "has always punctually attended to his fiscal obligations".

The case was submitted at the court in Gava, near the Mediterranean coastal town where Messi lives. If found guilty, and barring an out-of-court deal with the tax office, Messi and his father could face two to six years in jail, according to Professor Sandalio Gomez, a sports finance analyst at the IESE Business School.

In the complaint, state prosecutor Raquel Amado alleges that from 2006-09 Messi "obtained significant revenue derived from the transfer to third parties of his image rights, income which should have been taxed".

Gomez told the Associated Press that the prosecutor's complaint appeared to be strong, while noting that hiring or establishing a company - even one overseas - to manage players' image rights was legal as long as they met their tax burdens in Spain.

"(The complaint) is well argued," he said, adding that it reminded him of the investigation of Inaki Urdangarin, the son-in-law of Spain's King Juan Carlos who is under investigation for possible tax fraud and money laundering.

Messi is not the first athlete to be investigated in Spain for taxes.

Last year former Portugal star Luis Figo - himself a one-time World Player of the Year - was forced to pay €2.45 million in income tax pertaining to image rights from 1997-99 while playing for Barcelona. In 2009, former top-ranked women's player Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario had to pay millions in back taxes.

Messi is widely considered the best player of his generation and one of the best in history after winning an unprecedented four straight FIFA World Player of the Year awards. He has scored 133 goals for Barcelona over the last two seasons and helped them win their fourth La Liga title in five seasons last term.

The 25-year-old, who is rated by Forbes as the world's tenth highest-paid athlete, reportedly earned $41.3 million to June this year; with $20.3 coming from his club salary and $21 million in endorsements.

Messi leads an apparently quiet life focused on his family - he became a father last year - and has always steered clear of controversy, making him a universally popular figure around the world.

Spain has been cracking down on tax evasion as it fights to repair the country's public finances amid recession and the collapse of its once-booming real estate sector.

The country has been further hurt by a series of corruption and financial fraud cases which until now had been limited to the worlds of business and politics.

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