As Lionel Messi sat at home nursing a back injury that might keep him out of Copa América, his tax evasion trial was convened in Barcelona earlier today.
The Argentine legend and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, have been accused by Spanish tax authorities of cheating the government out of €4.1 million, or roughly $4.5 million. Both men have maintained their innocence and are confident the trial will clear them of wrongdoing.
The charges stem from revenue earned from Messi’s image rights, which the Spanish government alleges were hidden in several foreign shell companies to avoid tax liability. The formal investigation began in 2013, at which point both men made a €5 million payment to the government equal to the unpaid taxes plus interest.
Lionel’s defense is predicated largely on ignorance of the situation. The Barcelona forward, who Forbes Magazine names as the fourth highest paid athlete in the world, is arguing that he never bothered reading his contracts and that others, namely his father, managed his finances for him so he could focus on football. A high court ruled last year that his lack of awareness will not be enough to absolve him.
They’re not obligated to attend every hearing, but the younger Messi’s attorney, Javier Sánchez-Vera, presented documents to the court corroborating his present health condition, which has him recovering from a back injury suffered last week during Argentina’s friendly against Honduras. “The intention of Mr Lionel was to attend the plenary hearing, but he has suffered an injury,” Sánchez-Vera said.
Both men will have to attend Thursday’s hearing to testify. Sánchez-Vera assured the court his client would.
The trial is expected to last three days. If convicted, both Messi and his father could face nearly two years in prison.