FC Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi and his father were ordered by a Spanish court on Thursday to testify in September for a case in which they are being investigated for tax fraud, according to a report from the Associated Press.
State prosecutors allege that Messi and his father had defrauded the Spanish tax office of 4 million euros, the equivalent of $5.3 million. They will appear in court in Gava, a coastal town near Barcelona, on Sept. 17, possibly the same day as Barcelona's opening game in the Champions League.
The testimony collected during their appearance in September will determine whether a criminal offense has been committed, according to the report, citing a statement from the Gava court:
"To move forward with the investigation a series of procedural steps will be carried out like taking testimony of the people necessary so as to clarify if a criminal offense has been committed or not."
If convicted, Messi and his father could potentially face a fine of 150 percent of the earnings on which they allegedly failed to declare for tax purposes. They could also face between two and six years in prison. As the report states, an "out-of-court deal" is another possible outcome.
Messi, who scored 60 goals this season in the Spanish league, denies any wrongdoing. In an AP report earlier in June, former FC President Joan Laporta also maintained their innocence:
"I am convinced that neither Leo nor his father have committed any infraction. The situation could be that they don't have any responsibility in these events. There can be third parties who are responsible....I know them and they have always wanted to act within the law, and that's how they acted with the club, at least when I was president.''
According to Forbes, Messi is the 10th highest-paid athlete this year, as of June, reportedly earning $20.3 million from his salary with FC Barcelona and another $21 million from endorsements with Adidas, Danone, Konami, Procter & Gamble, Pepsi-Cola, and Telefonica, among others. The complaint from the court states that he did not pay taxes on revenues collected from image rights in his contract with his sponsors.