Football’s most iconic figure, Lionel Messi is alleged to have defrauded Spain for more than €4 million and now prosecutors are seeking to land the Barcelona forward with a jail sentence of 22-and-a-half months. Messi arrived at the Barcelona court dressed for a funeral, indeed if he’s found guilty of tax fraud he’ll be laying his career to rest.
Lionel Messi is staring a career ultimatum in the face, as he and his father Jorge are accused of defrauding the country in which he’s spent the majority of his life. The Argentinian’s are accused of using a consortium of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on €4.16m (£3.23m) of income earned through the sale of Messi’s image rights between the period of 2007-09.
Spain’s tax agency is insisting that the pair receive heavy fines and prison sentences for their crime but both Messi and his father deny any wrongdoing. The Argentinian pair previously moved to mitigate any potential sentence if they are found guilty in August 2013, making a voluntary payment of 5m euros (£3.88m) – the amount of the alleged unpaid taxes plus some hefty interest.
Messi has continually pleaded ignorance to any wrongdoing, a line of defence echoed by his lawyers who are presenting the argument that Messi’s father handled the footballer’s finances without reporting to him – a story reinforced by Messi’s former tax advisers.
Inigo de Loyola Juarez, partner at the law firm which managed Messi’s tax affairs during the period in question, stated in court:
“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.”
Inigo de Loyola Juarez, Messi’s former tax advisor
Irrespective of the evidence to support Messi’s innocence, high court officials have insist a plea of ignorance will not exclude the 28-year-old from punishment if proven guilty.
Would a guilty verdict spell the end for Messi’s footballing career?
As the infamous example of Tiger Woods goes to show, scandals within sport have the potential to destroy even a superstar’s reputation and brand image. Nike, Gillette, all of Wood’s major sponsors dropped the American in a heartbeat after he emerged as a serial womaniser – defrauding the country that made you a superstar of €4million would probably reap similar consequences.
Lionel Messi risks losing all the respect his fans have for him. The Barcelona forward has been idolised for his innate footballing talents, but also hailed for the narrative behind of his rise to stardom: The boy deemed too small for the professional game, taken from dusty pitches to La Masia, becoming a sensation before he’d even hit 20. The classic ‘something from nothing story’ all feels somewhat contrived if, upon reaching the top, you abuse the wealth you’ve earnt.