Panama Papers: Footballer Messi threatens to sue Spanish paper for defamation

Barcelona player Lionel Messi arriving at Narita International Airport on Dec 14, 2015.
Barcelona player Lionel Messi arriving at Narita International Airport on Dec 14, 2015. PHOTO: EPA

BARCELONA • Lionel Messi is planning to sue a Spanish newspaper for defamation after the footballer was linked to tax evasion projects in the Panama Papers leak.

The five-time World Player of the Year was accused by El Confidencial of "setting up a tax fraud network" by using Panamanian company Mega Star Enterprises to avoid paying tax on image rights deals.

El Confidential produced documents appearing to show both Messi and his father Jorge's signatures on documents acquiring the shell company Mega Star Enterprises via an Uruguayan company.

The Argentinian and his father bought the company a day after being indicted by the Spanish fiscal authorities investigating an alleged €4.1 million (S$6.3 million) in unpaid taxes. Both men are currently on trial in Spain for tax evasion and are due in court on May 31.

That case centres on the alleged simulated transfer of image rights into front companies with no business activity in Uruguay and Belize.

The pair are accused of ceding the player's image rights to the companies in order to avoid declaring money made from lucrative deals with sponsors in Spain. Both have denied the accusations and instead blamed a former financial adviser.

 
 

Jorge Messi made a voluntary corrective payment of €5 million in August 2013. Mega Star enterprises is not mentioned in the case.

The 11 million leaked records from the files of Mossack Fonseca, a Panama law firm, also include the names of 20 high-profile footballers.

But, most importantly, they could threaten to undermine the credibility of Fifa's independent ethics committee, which is central to attempts to show football's world governing body is willing to reform after decades of corruption allegations.

The documents show that a law firm belonging to Mr Juan Pedro Damiani, a Uruguayan lawyer and long-serving member of the ethics committee, did work for offshore companies linked to Eugenio Figueredo, a former Fifa vice-president who has been indicted in the United States on wire fraud and money-laundering charges.

The ethics committee has launched an inquiry, insisting it was not aware of Mr Damiani's business links to Figueredo before they were brought to its attention last month.

Mr Damiani's spokesman said that he was not authorised to make statements while officials in Uruguay are investigating allegations of corruption related to Fifa.

The Panama Papers also allege that suspended Uefa president Michel Platini turned to Fonseca to help him administer an offshore firm created in Panama in 2007.

The Frenchman is serving a six-year ban from all football-related activity for an ethics breach after former Fifa president Sepp Blatter approved a US$2 million (S$2.7 million) payment to the Frenchman in 2011 for consultancy work done without a contract a decade earlier.

On Sunday, Platini's communications service told AFP his entire financial records and properties had been made known to the Swiss authorities since 2007.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 05, 2016, with the headline 'Footballer Messi threatens to sue Spanish paper for defamation'. Print Edition | Subscribe