Top world soccer player Lionel Messi is planning to sue Spanish newspaper El Confidencial over allegations that he has been using an off-shore company to launder money with his father, the editors of the publication confirmed to The Mirror.
The allegations about Lionel first appeared in El Confidencial on Sunday a few hours after the initial analysis of the Panama Papers was published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). As of now, it appears that only the Spanish newspaper will be sued by the Messi family.
ICIJ remarked that the documents revealed “how a global industry of law firms and big banks sells financial secrecy to politicians, fraudsters and drug traffickers as well as billionaires, celebrities and sports stars.” Among those hiding in the Panama Papers, ICIJ said, is Lionel.
“The world’s best soccer player, Messi, is also found in the documents. The records show [Lionel] and his father were owners of a Panama company: Mega Star Enterprises Inc. This adds a new name to the list of shell companies known to be linked to Messi. His offshore dealings are currently the target of a tax evasion case in Spain.”
It’s not clear exactly why the El Confidencial article is the target of the lawsuit, but part of it might have to do with the language the Spanish newspaper used. It began with the assertion that Messi was seeking to “reach the same fame in his career as a defrauder as he has with his extraordinary sports merits.”
Without plausible explanation, Lionel and his father have been documented buying the defunct company Mega Star Enterprises through an Uruguayan intermediary. El Confidencial alleges that this was done in order to launder money to avoid paying taxes to the Spanish government. The Spanish paper produced the contracts showing that Messi and his father had signed on such a deal in 2013. That was shortly after the father and son were hit with separate tax evasion charges.
Though Lionel might be suing El Confidencial over the Panama Papers, it’s actually not the first time the Argentine soccer star has been taken to court by the Spanish government. Messi and his father are already going to Spanish courts for tax evasion to the tune for 4 million euros. Although he was born in Argentina, Lionel holds Spanish citizenship in order to play on the country’s soccer teams.
Despite what the leak of the Panama Papers seeks to expose, The Guardian cautioned that the use of an off-shore account is not strictly illegal and can even be used to protect assets in countries like Ukraine and Russia that are subject to criminal raids. Early analysis seems to indicate that was not the case in many of the deals exposed by the massive 11.5-million document, 2.6-terabyte leak. Further scrutiny should reveal if Messi’s case is one of them.
In the fallout of the Panama Papers leak, Mossack Fonseca, the firm at the center of the accusations, has said that it cannot be held responsible for the conduct of all its “banks, law firms and accountants.”
On Monday morning, Lionel Messi is expected to make a statement about his decision to sue El Confidencial, as well as the evidence against him in the Panama Papers.
[Image via Clive Rose/Getty Images]