The Barcelona Provincial High Court in Spain rejected an appeal filed by the lawyers of Barcelona forward Lionel Messi to drop tax fraud charges against him, reports El País.
Messi could face a fine of up to €24 million ($31.274 million) and up to five years in prison if found guilty of the charges.
The court said they believed there is evidence to support claims that Messi knowingly benefited from the creation of companies by his father in several countries which allowed him to skip out on payments of €4.1 million ($5.5 million) to the Spanish Tax Agency between 2007 and 2009.
The court ruled that they will decide during a hearing whether Messi had knowledge of the fraud scheme, meaning that he and his father will remain under investigation for three counts of tax fraud.
Messi has denied any wrongdoing, saying in June 2013 when the charges were announced, “We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advices of our tax consultants who will take care of clarifying this situation.”
Messi's father did pay $6.6 million to cover unpaid taxes plus interest last August, but the charges were not dropped despite two subsequent appeals.
His lawyers have attempted to have Messi removed from the case, but one judge responded by saying that for this type of crime, it wasn’t necessary for someone to have knowledge of all business practices, but “it is sufficient to be aware of the designs to commit fraud and consent to them.”
- Scooby Axson