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Messi lawyers deny settlement report

Lionel Messi's lawyers have denied the claim of Catalan newspaper El Periodico that the Barcelona player and his father will pay €15 million to the Spanish taxman in order to avoid facing tax fraud charges in court.

Both Messis were due to appear at a court hearing in the town of Gava near Barcelona on September 17 in relation to claims the pair, and their financial advisors, had illegally re-routed image rights revenues through offshore tax havens from 2007 through to 2009 to avoid paying the €4.1 million taxes due in Spain on such income.

El Periodico initially reported on Thursday that the Messis' representatives had reached an agreement with the Spanish tax authorities, which would lead to no further action being taken. The Catalan paper later updated its story to say that Messi's people had told its reporters that no deal had yet been agreed regarding the three years in question.

Sources from Messi's legal team told Mundo Deportivo that they were currently still preparing a response to the charges, and it was too early to say if the September 17 court hearing would take place.

Last week, an additional €10 million payment was reportedly agreed to cover Messi's image rights for 2010 and 2011.

Had Messi and his father been found guilty in court, they could have faced up to five years in jail, however custodial sentences are rarely imposed in Spain for such offences.

Other Spanish-based sporting figures including Luis Figo, Davor Suker and tennis player Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario have settled their own tax disputes in recent years.

Messi, who is currently on a visit to Senegal to help publicise the problem of child malaria in that country, and his father Jorge have always maintained that they were fully compliant in all tax affairs.

Jorge pointed out recently that his son paid more than €10 million in taxes each year while complaining of cruel and false reporting of the events.

Forbes say Messi, who turned 26 on June 24, is the tenth best paid sportsperson in the world, with total annual earnings of $41.3 million. $21 million of this figure reportedly comes from companies such as Adidas, Danone, Banc Sabadell, Pepsi, Telefonica, Konami and his club Barcelona, who use the four time world player of the year's image for their own marketing or commercial purposes.

The Blaugrana star has received public backing from club president Sandro Rosell and former president Joan Laporta, who was in charge during the years when the alleged image-rights 'dodge' took place.

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