Messi and his father to stand trial in Spain on tax fraud; could face nearly 2 years in prison

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MADRID — Lionel Messi will stand trial in Spain on three counts of tax fraud and could be sentenced to nearly two years in prison if found guilty.

Court documents made public Thursday said a judge has rejected a request to clear the Barcelona player of wrongdoing and decided to charge him and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, with tax fraud.

Prosecutors had said Messi — a four-time world player of the year — was not fully aware of his father's unlawful activities, but the state attorney's office contended that the Argentina forward knew enough to also be named in the case.

The attorney's office called for a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days for the player and his father, along with a fine in the amount defrauded, payment of all legal proceedings and the loss of any possible tax benefits for a year and a half. Prosecutors had called for an 18-month prison sentence for Messi's father, along with a fine of 2 million euros ($2.2 million).

A judge had recently rejected an appeal filed by Messi's lawyers to drop the Barcelona player from the case.

Messi and his father are accused of defrauding Spain's tax office of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) in unpaid taxes from 2007-09.

Messi's father made a payment of more than 5 million euros ($5.6 million) in August 2013 to cover unpaid taxes, plus interest.

A date for the trial has not yet been set.

The El Pais newspaper reported recently that Messi told authorities he would "sign anything with his eyes closed" if his father told him to do it.

The court in Gava, Barcelona, had said that although Messi was unfamiliar with tax issues, there was sufficient evidence to believe the Barcelona playmaker could have known and consented to the creation of a fictitious corporate structure to avoid paying taxes on income from his image rights. Authorities said some of the income came through companies located in tax havens.

The court said it was not necessary for Messi "to have full knowledge of all accounting or corporate transactions or the exact amount of the fraud" for him to have had a clear idea of an intention to defraud.

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