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Jun 24, 2013

Lionel Messi pays €10m in back taxes

Barcelona star Lionel Messi will have to face a Spanish court to defend himself against allegations of tax fraud.

Lionel Messi has paid an "additional" €10 million in taxes and is looking to settle the claimed €4.1 million debt that has led to the Barcelona player being called by a Spanish judge to answer charges of tax fraud, according to reports in Catalonia.

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Messi and his father, Jorge, are due to appear at a court hearing in the Catalan town of Gava on Sept. 17 in relation to claims that the pair and their financial advisers, had illegally rerouted image-rights revenues through offshore tax havens to avoid paying taxes due in Spain on such income.

Catalan newspaper La Vanguardia reported Monday morning that a €10 million payment, covering Lionel Messi's image rights for 2010 and 2011, had been made in recent days. The paper suggested this means the player is looking to reach an agreement on the €4.1 million sum, which dates to the period from 2007 to 2009, and thereby avoid having to make any court appearance.

Messi, his father and his legal representatives have maintained that they were fully compliant in all tax affairs, with Jorge Messi pointing out that his son paid more than €10 million in taxes each year while complaining of cruel and false reporting of the events.

The blaugrana star has received public backing from club president Sandro Rosell and former president Joan Laporta, who was in charge during the years of the alleged fraud.

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.

The 26-year-old, who is rated by Forbes as the world's 10th-highest-paid athlete, reportedly earned $41.3 million until June this year, with $20.3 million coming from his club salary and $21 million in endorsements.

State prosecutor Raquel Amado alleges that from 2006 to 2009 Messi "obtained significant revenue derived from the transfer to third parties of his image rights, income which should have been taxed."

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

Last year former Portugal star Luis Figo was forced to pay €2.45 million in income tax pertaining to image rights from 1997 to 1999 while playing for Barcelona. In 2009, former top-ranked women's player Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario had to pay millions in back taxes.

Messi leads an apparently quiet life focused on his family -- he became a father last year -- and is a universally liked figure in Spain and abroad. He has scored 133 goals for Barcelona over the past two seasons and helped it win its fourth Spanish league title in five seasons this year.

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 that until now had been limited to the worlds of business and politics.

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