Lionel Messi and his father were ordered by a Spanish court yesterday to appear for questioning in September as part of an investigation into tax fraud allegations.
A court in the Mediterranean coastal town of Gava near Barcelona accepted a state prosecutor's complaint alleging that Messi and father Jorge defrauded the Spanish tax office of US$5.3 million (HK$41.1 million). The Barcelona and Argentina star and his father will appear before judge Anju Deb Rani in Gava on September 17. That will form part of an investigation to determine whether grounds exist to charge them with tax evasion.
The court said in a statement the judge's acceptance of the complaint was a "routine step."
If charged and found guilty, Messi and his father could face a fine amounting to 150 per cent of the concealed earnings and between two and six years in prison. An out-of-court agreement is another possible outcome.
Messi and his father will have to appear in person for a session that will be closed to the public, court officials said. The timing could coincide with Barcelona's opening game in the Champions League - September 17 or 18.
The court accepted the complaint lodged by prosecutor Raquel Amada on June 12 accusing the pair of not paying the correct taxes from revenue earned from image rights on Messi's income tax returns from the years 2007, 2008 and 2009. The complaint said they supposedly used a network of shell companies in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay to avoid Messi's obligations.
Messi has denied wrongdoing. He has received public backing from Barcelona club president Sandro Rosell and former president Joan Laporta, who was in charge during the years of the allegations.
The 25-year-old Messi is widely considered the best player of his generation and one of the best in history after winning an unprecedented four straight world player of the year awards. He is rated by Forbes as the world's 10th highest-paid athlete.