Madrid: Lionel Messi will appear in court on Friday after his lawyer failed to strike an eleventh-hour deal to get prosecutors to drop a tax evasion case against the Barcelona footballer.
Messi, 26, and his father are to appear in court in Barcelona to face allegations that they evaded 4.2 million euros in taxes on the sale of image rights.
Messi’s lawyer, Cristobal Martell, tried to convince prosecutors this week to drop the case against the player and to take action only against his father, legal sources said. But prosecutors refused to accept a deal.
A judge must decide at Friday’s hearing whether to charge both men with criminal tax evasion and proceed to trial or to drop the case.
If convicted, Messi could face a fine of up to 21m euros and a one-year suspended sentence.
Prosecutors are pursuing the case even after the Messi family paid 5m euros (£4,220,000) into court — the amount they are both alleged to have evaded, plus interest — on August 15.
The player and his father allegedly used a network of companies in Britain and Switzerland and tax havens in Uruguay and Belize to avoid paying Spanish tax on income from the sale of his image rights between 2007 and 2009.
Messi’s father is accused of being the brains behind the scheme, allegedly setting it up in 2005 before his son turned 18 that year.
Messi, who is estimated to earn about 26 million euros (£22m) a year from salary and income from sponsorship deals, denies any wrongdoing and has insisted that he has always abided by tax regulations.
Despite the looming court case, Messi’s form on the field has scarcely been affected.
“I am not worried, I’m always on the sidelines of all that, just like my dad. We have our lawyers and our advisors who handle these things. We trust in them and they will solve the issue,” he said back in July.
The case began in June when a prosecutor accused the Messis of evading tax by ceding the image rights of the player to “purely instrumental entities” in tax havens.
According to the prosecutor’s report, Messi “obtained significant income” from image rights between 2006 and 2009 on which he “should have paid tax in his subsequent declarations” to the authorities and never did.