Barcelona soccer player Lionel Messi, center, arrives at a court in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, June 2, 2016. Messi's tax trial began Tuesday. Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud. They could be sentenced to nearly two years in prison if found guilty of defrauding Spain's tax authority of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million) from 2007-09.Hundreds of journalists and a few onlookers were in front of the Barcelona court house when Messi and his father arrived. Authorities had prepared a special operation to control the crowd and protect the player. Some people showed their support to Argentina star, while a few yelled words against him, including asking him to "give the money back" and telling him to "go play in Panama." Messi was also being investigated by Spanish tax authorities after his name was among those released in the probe of international offshore accounts, known as the Panama Papers, although he was not charged for those allegations.
As earlier reported, Messi and his father, Jorge Messi, appeared in Barcelona court over allegations of more than €4m in unpaid taxes on the player’s image rights.
According to reports from Sport, during the court trial Messi said: “I devoted myself to playing football. I was confidant in my father and the lawyers for these issues. I didn’t think they were going to mislead or defraud me. I don’t know anything about these issues, nor have they ever interested me.
“All I knew is that I signed the contracts with sponsors and I knew I had to do adverts or have photos taken. I never read anything or asked anything. I remember I went to a notary 10 years ago but I didn’t know what that was. As you can imagine, it was something different. I don’t remember that long ago.”
The state prosecutor has asked for Leo Messi to be sentenced to 22 months in prison if found guilty, though AS notes he would likely face a light punishment since he doesn’t have a criminal record.
Jorge Messi, meanwhile, vouched for his son’s innocence. He confessed that Messi had no knowledge of his tax arrangements in the evidence he tendered before the court June 2, AS reported.
“I’ve always tried to make my son’s life easier….he didn’t know anything. I told him he had to sign off on something in 2006, a contract, and we went to a public office,” the elder Messi said.
When the player left the court house, many fans applauded.
A verdict is expected next week.