Messi arrives at Court for final trial
Lionel Messi has arrived at a Barcelona court to take the stand for the first time at his tax fraud trial.
The 28-year-old Barcelona forward accompanied by his father Jorge Horacio Messi who were accused of using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16m euros (£3.23m) of Messi’s income earned through the sale of his image rights from 2007-09.
Numerous photographers and onlookers crowded behind metal barriers and a squad of police that guarded the entrance of the court to catch a glimpse of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
After his court appearance in Barcelona, Messi will fly to the United States to play in the Copa America. Argentina take on defending champions Chile in their first game of the three-week tournament in California on Monday.
The high-profile case kicked off on Tuesday without Messi, as he was recovering in his hometown of Rosario in Argentina from a lower back injury he suffered during a friendly match against Honduras last week.
Under Spanish law, a defendant is not obliged to attend the full trial if prosecutors seek a jail sentence of less than two years – as is the case here.
Messi’s former tax advisers came out in support of him when they took the stand on Wednesday, saying the player never handled his own wealth management.
He “didn’t take any decisions and I didn’t see anyone consulting him for anything”, Angel Juarez, one of the partners at law firm Juarez Veciana, which managed Messi’s tax affairs at the time, told the court.
Inigo de Loyola Juarez, another partner and Angel Juarez’s brother, added: “I don’t know if any of my correspondence has been included in the case, but they will see that Lionel Messi does not appear in any of it.”
Messi and his defence team have long argued that Messi’s father handled the footballer’s finances without reporting to him, and the striker was not aware of any wrongdoing.
Both Messi and his father, who has managed his son’s affairs since he was a child, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud.
Spanish prosecutors are seeking a jail sentence of 22-and-a-half months for them if they are found guilty, plus fines equivalent to the amount that was allegedly defrauded.
But any such sentence would likely be suspended as is common in Spain for first offences carrying a sentence of less than two years.
Messi and his father made a voluntary payment of 5m euros (£3.88m) – equal to the amount of the alleged unpaid taxes plus interest – in August 2013 after being formally investigated, which is expected to mitigate any sentence if they are found guilty.
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