BARCELONA: Argentina star Lionel Messi and his father are accused of using a chain of seven companies in Belize, Uruguay, Switzerland and Britain to avoid paying 4.16 million euros ($4.6 million) in taxes in Spain earned from the sale of the player’s image rights from 2007-09.
The two men, who have been charged with three counts of tax fraud, took the stand at a Barcelona court on Thursday at their trial.
While Spanish authorities have focused their investigation of tax fraud that was allegedly carried out between 2007 and 2009, the case dates back to 2005 when the Messi family ceded the player’s image rights to the firm Sports Consultants based in Belize.
At the time the tiny English-speaking Central American country was considered to be a tax haven.
Acting on the advice of Messi’s former agent Rodolfo Schinocca, the company was registered in the name of the player’s mother, Celia Cuccittini.
It operated with two other firms in Britain which handled Messi’s image rights before they were transferred to Belize, according to Spanish prosecutors who consider the firms to be shell companies.
This scheme was employed during two years, until the Messis ended their relationship with Schinocca who they accused of diverting part of the revenues.
The Messi family then set up a similar structure in Uruguay where the revenues from the player’s image rights would not be subject to tax payments, according to the mastermind of this scheme, Barcelona lawyer Angel Juarez.
The new scheme started operating in March 2007 and it was made up of four firms.
Uruguay-based Jenbril was 100 percent owned by Messi and he poured his image rights earnings in there.
Another firm, Frosyl based in Britain, was where his father Jorge Horacio Messi deposited his commissions as the player’s agent.
The system was made up of two other firms — London-based Sidefloor and Switzerland-based Tubal.
Income from the sale of Messi’s image rights passed first through the companies in Britain and Switzerland before it was transferred to Uruguay.
The income related to Messi’s image rights that was allegedly hidden from Spanish tax authorities in this way during this time includes endorsement deals with Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.
Messi and his father made a voluntary payment of 5.0 million euros ($5.6 million)– equal to the amount of the alleged unpaid taxes plus interest — in August 2013, which is expected to mitigate any sentence if they are found guilty.-AFP