Barcelona newspaper El Periodico is reporting that Spanish authorities have targeted Lionel Messi and his father Jorge on suspicions of tax fraud and tax evasion.
The paper cites a €13 million ($17.3 million) figure owed by the Argentinian superstar, although subsequent reports in other media outlets have set the target more around €4 million ($5.3 million).
The paper cites a source which describes the deliberate evasion process by Messi as having been channeled through a process which sounds eerily similar to money laundering.
The source says the dodge “consisted of simulating the assignment of image rights to front companies based in tax havens [Belize, Uruguay] and, at the same time, formalising contracts of licensing, agency or benefit from services between these companies, and other such instruments domiciled in convenient jurisdictions [the UK, Switzerland]. This was done with the intended and successful aim that the incomes would move from countries where the companies or entities were based, to companies domiciled in tax havens, without being submitted to any taxation and, furthermore, with total opacity towards the Spanish Tax Authorities. The beneficiary of these incomes was no other than the person served – Lionel A. Messi.”
The period in question is apparently between 2007-2009.
UPDATE: Messi released a post on his official Facebook page denying the allegations. “We have just known through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities. We are surprised about those news, because we have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advices of our Tax Consultants who will take care of clarifying this situation.” Barcelona refused to comment on the situation.
Forbes ranks Messi as the 10th-highest paid athlete in the world at $41.3 million earned last year between salary, endorsements, and the like.
The case, at least in the beginning stages, will be brought to court in the Catalan town of Gava where Messi is registered for taxes.
The 25-year-old has been with the Argentinian national side, making an appearance as a substitute in Argentina’s 1-1 World Cup qualifying draw with Ecuador. His country has all but wrapped up a spot in Brazil 2014, sitting atop the CONMEBOL table with 26 points. Argentina are scheduled to play a friendly with Guatemala on Friday.