Lionel Messi could face a prison sentence and a huge fine if he is convicted of tax fraud, a lawyer has said.
The Barcelona striker and his father are under investigation in Spain for allegedly defrauding the state of more than four million euros.
Officials claim that Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio, filed fraudulent tax returns for 2007 to 2009 – a crime that could see them jailed for more than two-and-a-half years and fined up to 24 million euros if they are found guilty.
Messi denied the claims in a statement on his Facebook page on Wednesday, with the Argentine insisting that “we have always fulfilled all our tax obligations”.
However, lawyer Jeff Callow admitted the consequences would be severe if it is proved that the World Player of the Year has committed tax fraud.
He explained: “The public prosecutor’s office in Spain has filed a criminal complaint against Leo Messi and his father for tax fraud, basically claiming that they channelled income from endorsements and advertising through companies set up in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying tax in Spain.
“It’s exactly what the public prosecutor will have to prove, though – that Leo Messi knowingly committed tax fraud, in order for him to be convicted.
“If he is convicted of tax fraud, the other people involved would be convicted as accomplices to that fraud.
“If he can prove that he had no idea of what was going on or did not know how his affairs were managed, he would be acquitted, and the other people, if convicted, possibly his father, would then face the consequences.”
A judge at the courthouse must accept the prosecutor’s lawsuit before charges can be brought.