MADRID - Idolised for his immense skill on the field, four-time World Footballer of the Year Lionel Messi's squeaky-clean image off the pitch will come under scrutiny on Friday when he faces a judge accused of tax evasion.
The Argentine and his father Jorge Messi are due to appear in court on Friday morning in the coastal town of Gava near Barcelona, where the player resides, accused of evading tax on Messi's image rights to the tune of 4.16 million euros (S$7 million) between 2006 and 2009.
Despite the looming court case, Messi's form on the field has scarcely been affected with the Barcelona forward scoring 10 goals in just seven matches this season as the Spanish champions remain unbeaten.
"I am not worried, I'm always on the sidelines of all that, just like my dad. We have our lawyers and our advisors who handle these things. We trust in them and they will solve the issue," he said back in July.
The case began in June when a prosecutor accused the Messis of evading tax by ceding the image rights of the player to "purely instrumental entities" in tax havens like Belize and Uruguay.
According to the prosecutor's report, Messi "obtained significant income" from image rights between 2006 and 2009 on which he "should have paid tax in his subsequent declarations" to the authorities and never did.
A week later, a judge accepted the footballer and his father had a case to answer and ordered for them to appear before the court.
Although the offences of which both men are accused are in principle punishable by a jail sentence, the Messis paid the tax authorities five million euros in August (the 4.16 million euros claimed by the taxman plus interest), which will significantly reduce any sentence should they be found guilty.