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Sep 27, 2013

Lionel Messi answers tax charges

Lionel Messi's lawyers gave a statement outside court on Friday after he and his father appeared in court to answer questions about a multimillion-euro tax fraud case.

Jorge Messi says both he and his son Lionel are fully cooperating with Spanish authorities who claim the pair evaded over €4 million in taxes between 2007 and 2009.

Lionel Messi denied any wrongdoing at the court hearing in Gava, Catalonia.
Lionel Messi denied any wrongdoing at the court hearing in Gava, Catalonia.

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The Barcelona player’s father was speaking outside the Catalan courtroom where both had answered charges relating to the routing of 'image rights' income through offshore tax havens to avoid paying the €4.1 million worth of taxes for those years.

The pair deny any wrongdoing, and have reportedly told the court that they were misled by their financial advisors and are now happy to make right any wrongs they accidentally committed.

Jorge told reporters outside the courtroom that he and his son were being completely clear and transparent in all their dealings with the authorities.

"The instructions of the Messi family are for total transparency, clarity and collaboration,” he is quoted as saying by AS.

The family’s lawyer, Cristobal Martell, took the same conciliatory tone when he spoke outside the court a few minutes later.

“The questioning took place with the same wish for transparency,” he said. “It was shown that there was no wish to defraud and a big wish to sort out the relationship with the tax agency. There is no wish to get into any heated argument with the state around the interpretation of the tax regulations.”

After news of the issue broke earlier this summer the pair paid €10 million in taxes due on such income for the years 2010 and 2011, and in August another €5 million was reportedly paid to cover money owed from the 2007-to-2009 period, plus interest.

However, prosecutors have continued with the case as the Spanish government cracks down on tax evasion amid the country’s continuing economic woes.

Spanish press agency EFE reported that Jorge gave evidence at 10am local time, with Lionel speaking at 11am, in a hearing which took place in private. Neither spoke with reporters or the interested onlookers who had gathered outside the courtroom in Gava, near Barcelona, as they entered the building.

A pre-trial submission from the pair claimed they were unaware they had been badly advised by their accountants and tax consultants. This document reportedly also said that Jorge would take responsibility for any wrongdoing, as his son did not concern himself with any financial affairs.

Jorge had previously told Bloomberg that Rodolfo Schinocca, a sports agent hired by the family in 2005, was ultimately responsible for any irregularities in taxes paid.

“Lionel was 15 years old at the time, he didn’t have anything to do with this,” he said. “He is a footballer and that’s it. If there was an error, it was by our financial adviser. He created the company. My mistake was to have trusted the adviser. I’m going to take the blame for that. I had confidence in someone I shouldn’t have had.”

Schinocca denies he was involved in any tax affairs, and says he has not been contacted by the prosecutors in this case.

If found guilty, both Lionel and Jorge could be fined up to €21 million and receive a one-year suspended prison sentence.

La Liga clubs and players have long used ‘image rights’ schemes to avoid paying higher income tax rates, while the Spanish authorities have regularly found their attempts to do this to be illegal.

In August, El Pais almost managed to put together an all-star XI of footballers who had run into issues with the Spanish taxman -- Ruud Hesp; Michael Reiziger, Mauricio Pellegrino, Roberto Carlos; Luis Figo, Luis Enrique, Messi; Rivaldo, Patrick Kluivert, Davor Suker.

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