WORLD Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi faces the threat of up to six years in jail after being accused of a £3.5m tax fraud.
Spanish authorities are investigating claims that the Barcelona and Argentina superstar, who is estimated to earn £26m per year in wages and endorsements, used a network of offshore companies to dodge tax.
Messi, 26, and his father Jorge, who is accused of initiating the complex scheme, yesterday strongly denied the allegations.
“We have never committed any infringement,” the forward wrote on his Facebook page. “We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advice of our tax consultants who will take care of clarifying this situation.”
Major tax frauds carry prison terms of between two and six years, as well as fines of as much as six times the amount cheated, under Spanish law.
Messi and his father are accused of using companies in Uruguay and Belize to avoid tax totalling €4.2m (£3.5m) between 2007 and 2009 in a complaint lodged in a Barcelona court yesterday. The four-time World Player of the Year, rated by some to be the best player ever, is among the planet’s highest earning sports stars.
His salary is thought to be worth around £12m per year and supplemented by sponsorship deals worth as much again with brands such as sports kit makers Adidas and soft drinks firm Pepsi.
Messi, who scored an all-time record 91 goals for club and country in 2012, is currently on international duty and expected to represent Argentina against Guatemala tomorrow.