13 Jun 2013

Footballer Lionel Messi accused of tax fraud

6:10 am on 13 June 2013

Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi and his father are being investigated in Spain for allegedly defrauding the state of more than €4 million.

Officials say the Argentina forward and his father Jorge are suspected of filing fraudulent tax returns for 2007 to 2009.

The complaint was lodged by a state prosecutor for the northeastern region of Catalonia. A judge must accept the prosecutor's complaint before charges can be brought.

The 25-year-old World Player of the Year expressed his surprise, saying he had only learned about the investigation through the media.

Messi said on his Facebook page that he and his father had never committed any infringement. "We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advice of our tax consultants who will take care of clarifying this situation."

The player's Barcelona net salary is said to be some €16 million a year, making him one of the world's highest-paid athletes, the BBC reports.

He has also signed a number of multi-million dollar endorsements with major sponsors around the globe.

The player and his father are accused of three crimes of defrauding the state of taxes related to income from the use of his image.

They are suspected of using companies abroad - in Belize and Uruguay - to sell the rights to use the image.

The accusation is that with the help of firms based outside Spain, where he lives and plays club football, Messi and his father avoided paying more than €4 million in tax.