Published : 2013-09-27 21:54
Updated : 2013-09-27 21:54
Lionel Messi and his father appeared before a Spanish judge to answer questions in a multimillion-euro tax fraud case on Friday.
Messi gave answers for around half an hour after his father Jorge Horacio Messi had been questioned. After they both left separately, Messi's lawyer spoke outside the courthouse No. 3 in Gava, an easy-going coastal town just south of Barcelona near Messi's residence.
``The Messi family has wanted that we act with transparency, clarity and with a sense of cooperation, and that is how things went today as well,'' said Cristobal Martell, the lawyer of the Barcelona forward.
Martell said the hearing showed there was ``a great willingness to normalize the situation'' with Spain's tax office.
A complaint lodged by a Spanish state prosecutor in June said Messi and his father tried to conceal earnings from the player's image rights. The complaint alleged the Argentina international owed 4 million euros ($5.3 million) in back taxes from 2007, 2008 and 2009.
If found guilty, Messi and father could face a fine reaching 150 percent of the amount of back taxes.
In the complaint, state prosecutor Raquel Amado alleges that from 2006-09 Messi ``obtained significant revenue derived from the transfer to third parties of his image rights, income which should have been taxed.'' The complaint says Messi ``circumvented his tax obligations'' by using shell companies in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay.
Messi and his father have always denied any wrongdoing. They have received the backing of Barcelona president Sandro Rosell and former president Joan Laporta, who was head of the club during the years covered in the complaint.
Messi, wearing a suit but no tie, arrived smiling at the courthouse an hour after his father.
Messi was cheered on by a group of fans, many of them children, that grew to around 50 people alongside about 100 journalists and photographers.
The hearing was to see if there are clear indications of illegality. If so, then the judge could recommend that the case be prosecuted, barring an out-of-court settlement.
Messi's father made a payment of more than 5 million euros ($6.6 million) on Aug. 14 to cover alleged back taxes and interest. That payment led the court to decide that neither Messi nor his father needed to post bail.
The case has apparently not distracted Messi at work. Messi is joint-leading scorer of the Spanish league with seven goals. Barcelona plays at Almeria on Saturday looking to maintain its lead of the league.
The 26-year-old Messi is widely considered the best player of his generation after winning several titles with Barcelona and the highest individual award, the world player of the year, a record four years in a row.
Messi is rated by Forbes as the world's 10th highest-paid athlete, reportedly earning $41.3 million to June this year; with $20.3 million coming from his club salary and $21 million in endorsements. (AP)