International Tax Fraud

Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio have been found guilty of three counts of tax fraud for using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay as well as using shell companies in the United Kingdom and Switzerland to avoid paying taxes on earning Lionel Messi made from sales of his image rights. Messi, who is widely regarded as the best soccer player to ever play the game, relied on his father to manage his financial matters.  Messi told the court “I was playing football.  I had no idea about anything.”  Messi asserted to the court that “all I knew was that we signed agreements with certain sponsors for X amount of money and that I had to do adverts, photos and those things but about the money and where it went I knew nothing.”  Messi’s father Jorge as well as his tax advisers reiterated that Messi did not know the details of the contracts he was signing and never managed his own wealth.

Once the accusations were made against Messi and his father, they did not deny that they avoided paying taxes between 2007 and 2009. After being investigated, in 2013, Messi and his father made tax and interest payments to cover the alleged shortfalls.

While there was heavy debate about pursuing Messi, the Spanish government continued to pursue charges against Messi. The count found Messi and his father guilty of tax fraud, which they both received a 21-month jail sentence.  In Spain, most sentences under 2 years can be served under probation, so it is likely that they will not serve any jail time.  The court ordered Messi to pay a fine of around £1.7m and his father to pay £1.27m.

The presiding judge commented that “avoidable ignorance, which was derived from indifference, is not an error and it does not remove responsibility. The information that the accused avoided having was, in reality, within his reach via trustworthy and accessible sources.”