Onlookers at a Barcelona court house where Argentina striker Lionel Messi is standing trial for tax crimes jeered and branded the superstar a “thief” as he arrived the court on Thursday.
Messi who is among the world’s highest-earning athletes, is being tried on the suspicion of using a chain of companies to avoid paying tax between 2007 and 2009.
The 28-year-old is under suspicion of creating a string of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid taxation on €4.16m (£3.2m) of image rights earnings in that period of time.
According to the Independent, onlookers outside the court in Barcelona cried “thief” before one shouted “go and play for Panama” in reference to the recent Panama Papers leak which led to thousands of documents implicating politicians and other public figures in the use of off-shore tax havens.
Messi during the trial in court said: “I was playing football; I had no idea about anything. I trusted my dad and my lawyers.” Messi is quoted as saying on the Independent
The Argentinian’s father Jorge Horacio Messi also stands accused of tax fraud with witnesses telling the court yesterday that it was he, not his son, who was responsible for the player’s off-field activities.
Speaking for less than 15 minutes, Messi said he never suspected any wrongdoing when his father would ask him to sign contracts or documents relating to his image rights, a lucrative source of income for any athlete of his calibre.
The pair have been charged with three counts of tax fraud and could be sentenced to two years’ imprisonment, if found guilty, with a verdict expected to be announced early next week.