Lionel Messi Tax Trial Live: Hecklers Blast Soccer Superstar As ‘Thief’

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Lionel Messi

Photo via Lionel Messi on trial for tax evasion.

Thursday, 1 p.m. ET: Hecklers standing outside the Barcelona court aimed verbal barbs at Lionel Messi as he arrived for his court appearance, according to The Mirror’s Ed Maylon and The Independent’s Samuel Stevens.

Members of the public reportedly said to Messi “give the money back,” “go play for Panama” (in reference to his inclusion in the Panama Papers) and other insults.

Messi supporters also were there, yelling words of encouragement to him.

Thursday, 10 a.m.: Lionel Messi’s former tax advisers testified in his defense Wednesday, claiming the then 20 year-old soccer superstar was ignorant of the tax scheme and wasn’t included in the correspondence between their firm and his family.

“(Messi) didn’t take any decisions, and I didn’t see anyone consulting him for anything”, Angel Juarez of law firm Juarez Veciana said in his testimony.

Inigo de Loyola Juarez of the same firm also defended Messi.

“I don’t know if any of my correspondence has been included in the case, but they will see that Lionel Messi does not appear in any of it,” he said.

The Juarez brothers’ firm handled Messi’s tax affairs at the time, and their testimony likely will bolster’s Messi’s argument.

However, what’s good for Lionel Messi in this case could be seen as bad for his father, Jorge, who has handled his son’s wealth and financial matters.

Messil will testify in his own defense Thursday and is expected to fly back to the United States where his Argentina teammates are preparing for their Copa America 2016 opener against Chile.

Wednesday, 10 a.m. ET: Another of Lionel Messi’s lawyers, Enrique Bacigalupo, told reporters Tuesday that the player and his family are in a good state of mind, according to The Associated Press.

“Everything is good. Baciagalupo said, according to the AP. “All good.

“Everybody is calm.”

When asked how he planned to defend Messi and his father, Jorge, Bacigalupo put a soccer spin on his tactical plans.

“We will see that as the trial goes by,” Bacigalupo said. “Because we have to wait and see how the accusation (lawyers) will plan theirs. We like to counterattack. Like in football.”

The strategy runs counter to the way Messi plays with FC Barcelona.

Nevertheless, his legions of fans are hoping it works.

Tuesday, 11:30 a.m. ET: As expected, Lionel Messi didn’t attend the first day of his trial, but the reason why is more interesting than his absence.

Reuters reports Messi’s lawyer, Javier Sanchez-Vera, told the court that the back injury Messi suffered Friday night in Argentina’s Copa America tune-up game against Honduras prevented him from showing up for the first day of his trial. Messi claimed to have been in “intense pain” following the injury.

“The intention of Mr Lionel was to attend the plenary hearing, but he has suffered an injury,” Sanchez-Vera said.

Messi’s attorney then submitted a medical report.

Argentina’s Copa America opponents undoubtedly would love to see that medical report.

Tuesday, 11 a.m. ET: After enduring three years of suspicion and uncertainty, Lionel Messi finally is having his day in court.

The FC Barcelona and Argentina superstar’s tax-fraud trial began Tuesday in Barcelona. He and his father are charged with three counts of tax fraud. Messi is one of the highest-paid athletes in the world, with Forbes Magazine estimating he earned over $350 million in the last decade, according to the Guardian.

Most expect the trial to last three or four days, and a judge will make a final ruling. The proceedings occur the week before Argentina begins play at Copa America 2016 in the United States — a tournament the Messi-captained South American nation is favored to win.

The Messis will testify Thursday in what promises to be a pivotal day in the trial.

Watch this space all week, as we’ll provide ongoing updates on the five-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner’s battle with the tax man.

Here’s what you need to know.

THE CHARGES
Barcelona pays Messi around $27 million annually, but the case is about image-rights money, not his soccer paycheck.

Prosecutors accuse Messi, 28, and his father, Jorge, of defrauding tax authorities of €4.1 million ($4.5 million) between 2007 and 2009. They allegedly used Belize- and Uruguay-based shell companies to conceal endorsement earnings he made from sponsors like Adidas, Pepsi-Cola and Procter and Gamble. Prosecutors claim the money ended up in companies in Britain and Switzerland — outside of the reach of Spanish tax authorities.

Spanish authorities began investigating the Messis, who have lived in Barcelona since 2000, in June 2013 and formally charged them later that year.

Lionel claims ignorance of the financial scheme, and Jorge concurs.

“My dad handled the cash,” the younger Messi told a judge in September 2013, according to Sky Sports.

“He has nothing to do (with these issues), he only plays football,”Jorge added.

Lionel claims to have signed contracts at Jorge’s behest without reading them or having full knowledge of what they entail.

The Messis have already made a “corrective” payment of €5 million ($5.6 million), but their troubles haven’t gone away.

POTENTIAL PENALTIES
The case centers around Jorge’s actions, but Lionel hasn’t been cleared.

Criminal prosecutors in October 2015 recommended clearing Lionel of wrongdoing and pursuing the case solely against Jorge, but Spain’s Tax Agency authorities argued the player had enough knowledge of the scheme to face penalties for it. The judge sided with the latter argument, and Lionel Messi’s name remains in the case.

Tax authorities are calling for a fine of  €4.1 million ($4.5 million), as well as a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days. However, there is little likelihood of Lionel Messi going to prison, as he has no criminal record and the requested sentence is less than two years. A suspended sentence is the most likely outcome if the Messis are convicted.

Messi’s Barcelona teammate, Javier Mascherano, pleaded guilty in January to tax-fraud charges and was sentenced to one year in custody. However, he avoided incarceration by paying a fine.

Thumbnail photo via Rondeau/Presse Sports/USA TODAY Sports Images

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