Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New Title for Soccer Star Lionel Messi: Tax Cheat?

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New Title for Soccer Star Lionel Messi: Tax Cheat?

Article excerpt

Is the world's best soccer player also a tax dodger?

That's the accusation that Spanish tax authorities are making about Lionel Messi, who they say was involved in a 4.1 million euro ($5.4 million) tax evasion scheme. The Argentine is only the latest of a growing list of headline-grabbing fiscal-fraud cases that are captivating Spanish attention amid the country's grueling economic crisis.

Mr. Messi, who plays for the club Barcelona FC, paid "virtually no" Spanish income taxes on sponsorship deals worth 10 million euros between 2007 and 2009, Spanish economic crime prosecutors said Wednesday in their court filing against both Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio.

For months, tax-related scandals have gained media attention in Spain, publicly and in some cases legally implicating well known names from the country's top bankers and politicians, to movie and music stars, business leaders, royalty, and, sure enough, athletes.

Experts agree that it's not a question of increased tax evasion, but that countries struggling amid the crisis are more desperate for revenue amid fiscal trimmings. In Spain's case, it is also feeling pressure to show the brunt of paying rising taxes is being shared by all.

However, some have suggested that authorities are selective in the cases they pursue, shielding their allies, but targeting high- profile names like Messi.

While unlikely, Messi could technically face prison time, though the court hasn't even decided whether it has grounds to accept the case. Spanish Culture Minister Jose Ignacio Wert Thursday defended Messi's right to presumed innocence, but warned "the law naturally is the same for everyone, even for the number one," alluding to Messi's undisputed reputation as the world's best football player.

Messi denied any wrongdoing in a statement posted on his Facebook page, highlighting the fact that authorities had not previously contacted him. "We learned through the press about the actions initiated by Spanish prosecutors. This is something that surprises us because we have never committed any offense. …

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