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The trial of Lionel Messi on charges of tax evasion opened in Barcelona on Tuesday, though five-times World Player of the Year did not appear before the Court today for injury. However, he will be in court on Thursday to testify.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, are accused by the Spanish tax office of defrauding the government of 4.2 million euros ($4.7 million) between 2007 and 2009. They could face jail terms of up to 22 months if found guilty, though both have denied the allegations and missed Tuesday’s hearing which lasted over an hour. They are not obliged to attend the court every day, but they will have to testify on Thursday.

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Lionel Messi and his father could face 22 months prison sentence if found guilty. (File photo: Reuters)

Prosecutors pleaded that Barcelona and Argentina forward Messi and his father Jorge used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes of a total amount of €4.1m on earnings from image rights between 2007 to 2009.

“The intention of Mr. Lionel was to attend the plenary hearing, but he has suffered an injury,” Messi’s lawyer, Javier Sanchez-Vera, said in court. He presented a medical report.

The Barcelona forward hurt his back during Argentina’s international friendly against Honduras last Friday. Asked by the judge whether Messi would attend Thursday’s hearing, the lawyer said he would.

According to ESPN, both Lionel and Jorge Messi appeared in court previously in the Catalan town of Gava in September 2013. Messi  has said that he does not closely scrutinize his contracts and lets his father and advisors look after his financial affairs. The Spanish revenue service (Fiscalia) initially accepted the 28-year-old’s version of events, however another sector of the government (Abogacia del Estado) decided to continue with the charges.

A resident in Barcelona since 2000, Messi became a Spanish citizen in 2005. He is 10th on Forbes Magazine’s list of the world’s highest-earning athletes over the past decade, with an income of $350 million.

Other Barcelona players have also run into difficulties over their tax affairs. Javier Mascherano was reportedly fined heavily and received a one-year suspended sentence for fraud in January 2016.

A long-running investigation into the structure of the €90m-plus transfer of Neymar from Santos to the Camp Nou outfit in summer 2013 has yet to be resolved.

Source – ESPN and Indian Express