A Spanish judge indicated that a tax evasion case against soccer star Lionel Messi will move forward, despite a prosecutor’s recommendation, according to reports.
The judge rejected prosecution requests to drop the charges against the Argentina-born soccer star. He and his father Jorge Horacio Messi have been accused of setting up a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying $4 million euros, or about $5.3 million, in taxes for 2007 to 2009 on income from the athlete’s image rights, according to the Associated Press. Messi regularly plays for the Spanish team FC Barcelona, but was on Argentina’s national team in the recent World Cup.
Messi’s father reportedly paid over 5 million euros, or about $6.6 million, for the delinquent taxes, plus interest, last August. Some early reports last June put the figure at around $13 million (see Soccer Star Lionel Messi Pays $13M in Back Taxes).
Prosecutors had recommended that the charges be dropped, but the judge said in a statement that there is “sufficient evidence” to believe that Messi “could have known and consented to the creation and upkeep of a fictitious business structure, whose only purpose was to evade compliance with those tax obligations arising from the income generated by the exploitation of his image rights,” according to Bleacher Report. The judge added that it wasn’t necessary for Messi “to have full knowledge of the accounting or corporate transactions or the exact amount of the fraud” to be aware of an intention to defraud.
Spanish authorities are warning top athletes to make sure they are comfortable with their tax situations amid a government crackdown on unpaid taxes as the country’s economy slowly recovers.