After three years of angst and four hours of waiting, Lionel Messi spoke in court for all of 15 minutes.
The soccer superstar testified in his own defense at his ongoing tax-fraud trial on Thursday in Barcelona. Messi claimed his father, Jorge, handled his business affairs and he only signed contracts when told to do so.
Messi, 28, is accused of defrauding tax authorities of €4.1 million ($4.5 million) between 2007 and 2009 by using shell companies based in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on image-rights earnings in Spain.
Messi was just 20 at the time he and his father allegedly committed the offenses. He always has claimed ignorance of the scheme, and his testimony follows the same argument.
“I didn’t know anything,” Messi said, according to The Associated Press. “I only worried about playing football. I signed what he told me to sign because I trusted my father. I trusted my father, and the lawyers said that I could (sign the documents).
“The only thing I knew is that we signed deals with different sponsors and they paid for me to do advertisements, photos and things like that. But I didn’t know how this money arrived or where it was going.”
The allegations center around Jorge’s activities, but a judge has previously ruled Lionel had knowledge of the tax schemes.
Messi testified on the third day of the trial, which is expected to end Friday. A judge is expected to deliver a verdict and sentencing next week. The Messis are unlikely to face prison sentences if convicted, having already made “corrective” payments of €5 million ($5.6 million).
The trial has disrupted Messi’s preparations for Copa America 2016, which kicks off Friday in the United States. Having offered his long-awaited testimony, Messi will fly back to the U.S. and re-join his Argentina teammates ahead of Monday’s group-stage opener against Chile.
Thumbnail photo via Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports Images
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