Lionel Messi Says He ‘Didn’t Know Anything’ About Tax Fraud
Lionel Messi has often been compared to god, but here is proof of the fact that even gods cannot escape taxes. Along with his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, FC Barcelona forward and global soccer icon Leo Messi appeared in court on Thursday to testify against tax evasion charges. The star player, however, maintained that he himself had not been aware of the false companies that had been set up in order to defraud the Spanish government of taxes and that he trusted his father and lawyers with the responsibility of maintaining his considerable finances.
“I didn’t know anything. I only worried about playing football.”
With $74 million in earnings, Messi was number 13 on the 2015 Forbes list of the world’s highest paid celebrities, lagging just a little bit behind Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo. Between the years 2007 and 2009 — the time period that is being looked into in the trial — Messi earned €10.1 million in sponsorship deals.
While Messi mesmerised the world with his seemingly effortless ball play on the field, these earnings, according to the prosecutors working on behalf of the Spanish government, were being channeled into a web of international transfers for dubious sales of image rights, that made sure that Messi would not be paying any income tax against them.While Messi has already paid €5 million to rectify the admitted tax evasion of €4.1 million, both father and son are stolid in maintaining that Leo had no part to play in the fraud. In court, Messi’s father alleged that he too had been flummoxed by the legal language of his son’s financial dealings, saying that the functioning of the shell companies appeared “Chinese” to him. Jorge Messi, sitting with his son with his back to the audience in the court, also went on to agree that his son Lionel was scarcely involved in the negotiations and often signed papers without looking at them.
“I didn’t think it was necessary to inform him of everything.”
Messi’s critics in the world of sports are few, but the small number of people who do not subscribe to the fact that Messi is the best ever have always alleged that the Argentine has lived a privileged life, guarded from struggle by his family, who moved to Barcelona when he was young in order to give him the best opportunities as a football player. In light of the admission of ignorance about his own finances by the 28-year-old Messi, this critique seems to have struck a chord of truth.With both father and son at risk of facing 22-month sentences, the senior Messi spoke about the simple reason for not involving his son, Lionel, in the intricacies of the financial deals he was making.
“I always tried to make his life easy…I asked [Messi’s financial advisors] to look after our assets… and they told us this was the best way.”
Lionel Messi himself echoed his father when he took stand in court — an event preceded by a comical interlude in the proceedings when the presiding judge had to ask the prosecuting lawyer to stop his fawning over the star and simply proceed with the legal questioning. The player with fans in every corner of the globe kept an alert face during the course of the trial which ended with his own questioning, during which Messi shed more light on the process implemented by him, his father and their advisors.
“I just played football. I trusted in my dad on these things. I didn’t know the companies or anything, this subject has never interested me,” said Messi. “I signed the contracts because I trusted my dad and the lawyers and we had decided that they would take charge of those things. I didn’t read anything or ask anything.”
While chances are low of Lionel Messi ever being put behind bars, dissenters gathered near the Barcelona court were apparently heard shouting at Messi to, “Go play in Panama,” giving the much-loved Messi perhaps the most bitter taste of unpopularity yet.
[Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images]