Messi tax evasion accusations shock Spain
Newspapers reacted with shock to news that the Barcelona star and Argentina international has been accused of defrauding Spain's tax authorities of more than four-million euros.
"A symbol under suspicion," blared the front page of the country's biggest sports daily, Marca. The paper stated in an editorial that Messi had cast doubt on his image as an exemplary sportsperson.
"He has not been condemned, just accused, but the tax authority's account of a supposed fraud is hair-raising," the paper said.
Madrid-based daily El Mundo said the claim "smears his image" and if proven guilty would be "extraordinarily serious." It stated that Messi should be doubly condemned because of his high income.
The four-time world player of the year and his father Jorge Horacio Messi have fiercely denied wrongdoing.
"We are surprised about this news because we have never committed any infringement," the striker said in an statement released on his Facebook account on Wednesday.
Trial by media
In a written filing lodged with a court in northeastern Spain, where Messi is a resident, a financial crimes prosecutor accused him and his father of defrauding the state of more than €4-million in taxes related to income from the use of his image from 2006 to 2009.
The striker and his father aimed to "deceive" the taxperson by ceding Messi's image rights to companies based in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay, the prosecutor's complaint said.
The court has yet to decide whether to proceed with the case, however. The Barcelona-based daily Sport cautioned that the player had not been found guilty and should not be tried by the media.
"Messi does not deserve the injustice of parallel trials," the paper's director Joan Vehils said an opinion piece.
"Investigating him is fine but that he be condemned already without being given a chance to defend himself and without a trial is unacceptable."
Messi's achievements on the field have made him one of the most marketable sportspeople in the world. The Argentine was ranked 10th amongst Forbes' list of sports stars' incomes this month with an annual $21-million from endorsements alone.
But the complaint lodged with the court in Gava, near Barcelona, accused Messi and his father of defrauding the state of €1.06-million in 2007, €1.57-million in 2008, and €1.53-million in 2009. – AFP