Spanish authorities are fighting to keep up charges against four-time world footballer of the year Lionel Messi in a four-billion euro ($5.5 billion) tax fraud case, sources said on Tuesday.
Messi, who was set on Tuesday to try to add to his four goals in the current World Cup and help Argentina beat Switzerland to reach the quarter finals, has denied any wrongdoing.
He and his father Jorge Messi have denied charges of evading tax on the striker’s image rights, pointing the finger instead at a former agent of the player.
They testified in September in court near Barcelona, where a judge has yet to make a ruling. Based on the Messis’ testimony, public prosecutors have called for the case to be shelved.
But state lawyers acting on behalf of the Treasury have written to the judge calling for the case to be kept open, a judicial source told AFP on Tuesday.
“They consider it premature to shelve the case because there are documents with signatures that still have to be analysed,” the source said.
“The attorney general has therefore asked for the proceedings to continue.”
Lionel Messi is the fourth richest sportsperson in the world, according to the ranking published in June by Forbes business magazine.
He moved up to fourth from 10th place in just a year with an annual income of just under $65 million, it said.
The case began in June when a prosecutor accused the Messis of evading tax between 2006 and 2009 by ceding the player’s image rights to companies in Belize and Uruguay.
The court said Jorge Messi paid the tax authorities five million euros in August — the 4.16 million euros claimed by the taxman plus interest.
That was thought likely to significantly reduce any sentence should they be found guilty.
The news caused astonishment in Spain where Messi is seen as a more humble figure than other football stars, particularly his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo.