Soccer’s Lionel Messi Interviewed by Judge in Tax Investigation

Lionel Messi, the record four-time world soccer player of the year, and his father were interviewed today by a judge investigating whether they should be charged with tax evasion.

Television pictures showed Messi smiling as he was cheered and slapped on the back when he arrived at a court on the outskirts of Barcelona. The 26-year-old Argentine spent about two hours in the courthouse. His father, Jorge, arrived earlier for a separate hearing.

The Messis demonstrated “a great will” to settle the affair and not get into a tussle about financial regulations in their meeting with the judge, their lawyer Cristoball Martell said in comments broadcast on Television Espanola.

Prosecutors filed a complaint in June that said the Barcelona player and his father evaded 4.2 million euros ($5.7 million) in taxes on endorsement-contract payments from Adidas AG, PepsiCo Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and other companies. The government is pursuing the case after the Messis paid 5 million euros, the amount prosecutors say they evaded, plus interest.

If charged and convicted, Messi -- who has played for Spanish champion Barcelona since he was 13 -- and his father could be fined as much as 21 million euros and given one-year suspended prison sentences.

According to prosecutors, the pair diverted 10 million euros to tax havens in Belize and Uruguay from 2007 through

2009. Messi’s father said last month his son had nothing to do with the tax structure and blamed former business partner Rodolfo Schinocca for the arrangement.

Schinocca said in an e-mail from Argentina that he wasn’t responsible for Messi’s taxes, only organizing commercial deals.

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