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Lionel Messi takes stand in tax fraud trial

AFP
Published : Jun 3, 2016, 12:06 am IST
Updated : Jun 3, 2016, 12:06 am IST

Barcelona football star Lionel Messi (left) arrives at a court in Barcelona on Thursday. Messi’s tax trial began on Tuesday after he and his father, Jorge Horacio, were charged with three counts of tax fraud. (Photo: AFP)

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Barcelona football star Lionel Messi (left) arrives at a court in Barcelona on Thursday. Messi’s tax trial began on Tuesday after he and his father, Jorge Horacio, were charged with three counts of tax fraud. (Photo: AFP)

Argentina and Barcelona football star Lionel Messi, one of the world’s highest-paid athletes, arrived on Thursday at a Barcelona court to take the stand for the first time at his tax fraud trial in Spain.

The 28-year-old was cheered and jeered as he emerged from a van accompanied by his father Jorge Horacio Messi.

The two are accused of using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16 million euros ($4.6 million) of Messi’s income earned through the sale of his image rights from 2007-09.

Dozens of photographers and onlookers crowded behind metal barriers and a line of police that guarded the entrance of the court to catch a glimpse of the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.

Most applauded but some jeered and criticised the player.

“If he cheated, he has to be sentenced no matter how much of an idol and Ballon d’Or winner he is. These are four million euros less to pay for hospitals, schools, firefighters, roads,” Jose Seco de Herrero, 25, said.

“Thief!,” yelled out one onlooker. “Go play in Panama,” cried out another.

The tax fraud trial comes at a time of simmering voter anger over steep government cuts to health and social spending.

Both Messi and his father, who has managed his son’s affairs since he was a child, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud.

Spanish prosecutors are seeking a jail sentence of 22-and-a-half months for them.

Location: Spain, Katalonia, Barcelona