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Lionel Messi, like Diego Maradona, is facing challenge from tax man

June 13, 2013|By Kevin Baxter
  • Lionel Messi has been accused of failing to pay his taxes.
Lionel Messi has been accused of failing to pay his taxes. (Eduardo Di Baia / Associated…)

We assume Diego Maradona was talking about Lionel Messi's athletic skills when he tabbed the then-18-year-old striker as his successor as the world's most famous soccer player.

Then again, maybe not. Because when a Spanish state prosecutor filed a complaint Wednesday alleging Messi and his father, Jorge, avoided paying $5.3 million in taxes, it was reminiscent of Maradona's own defeat at the hands of the tax man.

According to Forbes Italian, authorities in 2009 seized diamond earrings belonging to Maradona to help settle a $41-million tax debt. Three years earlier, police confiscated two Rolex watches worth $15,000 when the former Argentine World Cup star showed up to play in a benefit match.

Maradona insisted his club team, Napoli, was responsible for the unpaid taxes.

In the case of Messi -- an Argentine who has lived much of his life in Spain, where he plays for Barcelona -- authorities say he and his father set up foreign companies to sell the right to use his image. That allowed them to avoid paying Spanish taxes on those profits.

Brazilian race car driver Helio Castroneves, Forbes says, tried a similar maneuver when he and his sister used foreign companies to hide endorsement income earned in the U.S. Castroneves eventually beat six charges brought by the IRS.

In the case of Messi, the four-time world player of the year who earns a base salary of $14.6 million from Barcelona, conviction in a Spanish court could lead to jail time. But current and former team presidents have rallied to the player's side.

John Laporte, Barcelona's president from 2006 to 2009, said he is "convinced that neither Leo nor his father have committed any infraction."

Current president Sandro Rosell echoed that, saying the team has no "doubts about [Messi's] innocence."

Clearly this is a penalty shot Messi is hoping to miss.

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