Barcelona star Lionel Messi plans to sue a Spanish newspaper for defamation after linking him to tax evasion claims in the leaked Panama Papers, according to The Independent.
El Confidential named Messi as one of the people involved in “setting up a tax fraud network” with Panamanian company Mega Star Enterprises.
Messi and his father, Jorge, are expected to report to court on May 31 on separate tax evasion charges.
Messi and his father purchased the company after being indicted by Spanish fiscal authorities that looked into an alleged $4.6 million in unpaid taxes.
The Messi family issued a lengthy statement rejecting the claims by the newspaper:
“In response to the news released by various media outlets in which Lionel Messi is held responsible for the forming of a company with the aim of putting in place a new web of tax fraud. The Messi family wishes to make it clear that Lionel Messi has not carried out any of the actions he is accused of, the accusations of having created a new web of tax fraud and, even, money laundering, are false and libelous. The Panamian company referred to in the reports is a completely inactive company, which never held open accounts nor funds and which comes from the former company structure put in place by Messi's previous financial advisers, the fiscal consequences of which have already been normalized, with all the income that comes from exploitation of his image rights, prior to and after the procedure carried out in the courts, having been declared before the Spanish Treasury. Additionally, in the reports certain information is linked with events that are completely unrelated, currently pending resolution, or even with cases shelved by the court, such is the case of the "charity matches." Without a doubt, the facts on which the information is gleaned from is based on mere conjecture and come from biased documentation, which has been released using the Messi surname and his reputation as a demand. The previous actions are especially serious since there is an accusation for crimes as serious as tax fraud and money laundering, causing irreparable damage for Lionel Messi.”
Barcelona backed its star player in a statement:
“FC Barcelona has sent its affection and support to the player and to his whole family,” the team said. “The Club makes all of its judicial means, fiscal and administrative, at the family's disposal in order to make his actions and honor clear in this case.”
The leak also named 72 current or former heads of state as well as 140 other politicians.