Football: Lionel Messi compared to 'crime boss' at tax fraud trial

Lionel Messi (left) and father Jorge at their trial in Barcelona, Spain, on June 2, 2016.
Lionel Messi (left) and father Jorge at their trial in Barcelona, Spain, on June 2, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

BARCELONA (AFP) - Spanish prosecutors called on Friday for Lionel Messi to be absolved on the final day of his tax fraud trial, but the lawyer representing fiscal authorities disagreed, comparing him to a "crime boss".

The Argentina and Barcelona star and his father Jorge Horacio Messi have been accused of using companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on €4.16 million (S$6.4 million) of Messi's income earned from his image rights from 2007-09.

Prosecutor Raquel Amado called for the footballer to be let off in her closing arguments, a day after he took the stand and said he trusted his father with his finances and "knew nothing" about how his wealth was managed.

"There is no evidence that anyone explained anything to him," she said.

But Mario Maza, the state attorney representing tax authorities in the trial, said he found it unlikely that Messi knew nothing about the situation.

"There is no deliberate ignorance here, it's fraud and that's all there is to it, because he didn't want to pay his taxes," he said. "It's like a crime boss. At the very top is the bigwig who doesn't want to know about the details."

He is seeking a fine equivalent to the amount that was allegedly defrauded, plus a prison sentence of 22 and a half months for Messi and his father.

 

Any such prison sentence would likely be suspended as is common in Spain for first offences carrying a sentence of less than two years.

The income related to Messi's image rights that was allegedly hidden includes endorsement deals with Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.

Amado argued that the contracts were long, complicated and in English.

"For a layperson, if they see so many lawyers signing it, they must believe that it's fine," she said in defence of Messi.

But Maza argued that the offence was not creating the actual companies, but the act of not paying the money owed to tax authorities.

Both the prosecutor and attorney general, however, agreed that Messi's father should be found guilty.

On Thursday, Jorge Horacio Messi had said he too did not understand the intricacies of managing his son's wealth.

"All of this was like basic Chinese to me," he said.

"I asked (the advisers) to look after our assets... and they told us this was the best way."

Amado, who is seeking a jail sentence of one-and-a-half years for Messi's father, argued that he could not "dodge his responsibility by accusing his advisers".

The companies in Uruguay - which much of the probe centres on - were created and managed by a Barcelona law firm with whom Messi's dad communicated.

"Fraud takes place because there is a decision in that direction," Amado said.

Messi and his father did not attend the fourth and final day of the trial.

The player had been due to jet off to the United States after his Thursday court appearance for the Copa America where Argentina take on defending champions Chile on Monday.

No date has been set for when the court will issue its ruling.