Argentina star Lionel Messi, one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, goes on trial in Barcelona on Tuesday for allegedly defrauding Spain of over four million euros in unpaid taxes. After winning a league and Cup double with Barcelona, the five-time World Player of the Year and his father will confront in court the accusations that have dogged him since June 2013. The trial will run until June 2 -- the day when Messi is due to testify along with his father.
The court appearance comes just days before he joins his Argentina teammates for the Copa America in the United States. Argentina take on defending champions Chile in their first game of the tournament in California on June 6.
Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, are accused of using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16 million euros ( 4.7 million) of Messi’s income earned through the sale of his image rights from 2007-09. They have been charged with three counts of tax fraud.
Spanish prosecutors are seeking a jail sentence of 22-and-a-half months for Messi and his father if they are found guilty, plus fines equivalent to the amount that was allegedly defrauded. But any such sentence would likely be suspended as it is common in Spain for first offences carrying a sentence of less than two years.
Under Spanish law, a defendant is not obliged to attend the full trial if prosecutors seek a jail sentence of less than two years, which means Messi may only show up on June 2 for his testimony.