Lionel Messi appeared in court this morning on the second day of his trial for tax evasion and although the Argentina captain and his father, Jorge remained adamant that the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was oblivious to any wrong-doing, the crowd outside the courthouse branded him a thief.
Upon his arrival, onlookers shouted ‘Thief! Go and play for Panama!’ in reference to the Panama Papers leak which exposed a number of celebrities and politicians as beneficiaries of various off-shore tax schemes.
Messi and his father, Jorge Messi, have been charged with defrauding the Spanish tax authorities of around €4.1 million ($4.5m) in image rights earnings by creating fake companies in Belize and Uruguay.
However, the Barcelona star has always claimed that he had no involvement in any such deals and on Thursday denied again having any knowledge of these tax issues.
Messi told the judge: “I just played football. I signed the contracts because I trusted my dad and the lawyers and we had decided that they would take charge of those things.”
The defence is just this, that Messi may have signed documents but have no knowledge of what they were concerning and so when quizzed on his part in an image rights company called Jenbril, formed in 2007 in Uruguay, the 28-year-old responded, “I didn’t know about it. I never asked my dad about these things. I signed the contract because I trusted my dad and because the lawyers said that we should do it this way.”
Jorge Messi certainly corroborates this version as do the legal firm that the Messi’s used to oversee this.
Angel Juarez, a partner at the firm said, “The player wasn’t involved in any of the decisions. He would show up only to sign the documents.” While another employee, Eva Blazquez, who had dealt with the tax declarations confirmed, “Leo didn’t see them. The final supervision was done by the client, in this case, Jorge Messi.”
To further the defence’s claim, an expert verified that some of the signatures on Messi’s contract appeared forged and while Jorge Messi said that he, and not his son, was aware that by channeling the image rights through a company in Uruguay, this practice was not illegal.
Messi will now travel to Santa Clara to join up with the rest of Argentina’s squad ahead of Monday’s Copa América opener against Chile and while the trial is expected to finish on Friday, the verdict and any sentencing will be left until next week.