Barcelona football sensation Lionel Messi and his father appeared before a Spanish judge to answer questions in a multimillion-euro tax fraud case on Friday.
Messi gave answers for around half an hour after his father Jorge Horacio Messi had been questioned.
The Argentina striker, wearing a suit but no tie, arrived looking relaxed and smiling at the courthouse an hour after his father.
He was cheered on by a group of fans, many of them children.
After the hearing Messi’s lawyer, Cristobal Martell, spoke outside the courthouse in Gava, a coastal town just south of Barcelona near Messi’s residence.
“It was evident that there was little intent of committing fraud and a great willingness to normalise the situation with the tax office and to not get involved in a fierce battle with the state in an attempt to interpret the current tax regulations,” said Martell.
A complaint lodged by a Spanish state prosecutor in June said Messi and his father tried to conceal earnings from the player’s image rights.
The complaint alleged the Argentina international owed four million (m) euros (5.3 million (m) US dollars) in back taxes from 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Messi’s father made a payment of more than five million (m) euros (6.6 million (m) US dollars) on August 14 to cover alleged back taxes and interest.
That payment led the court to decide that neither Messi nor his father needed to post bail.
Friday’s hearing was to see if there are clear indications of illegality.
If so, then the judge could recommend that the case be prosecuted, barring an out-of-court settlement.
If the case goes to trial and Messi and his father are found guilty, they could face a fine reaching 150 percent of the amount of back taxes and possible prison time.
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