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TAX FRAUD

Barça star Messi denies €4 million tax fraud

Barcelona football superstar Lionel Messi on Wednesday denied any wrongdoing in his tax filings and expressed shock at allegations of tax crimes against him and his father.

Barça star Messi denies €4 million tax fraud
Bareclona's Lionel Messi (right) is known as one of professional football's more humble superstars. Photo: LLuis Gene/AFP

"We are surprised about those news, because we have never committed any infringement," the Argentine player said in an English-language statement released on his Facebook account.

"We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advices of our tax consultants who will take care of clarifying this situation."

The denial comes after Spain's financial crime prosecutors filed a complaint accusing Barcelona superstar Leo Messi of tax fraud worth more than €4 million ($5 million).

The filing reportedly includes the 25-year-old Argentinian international's father, Horacio Messi.

The court in Catalonia, where Messi is resident, could yet refuse to let the complaint proceed, the source said.

But if it were to proceed, it could be a huge blow to the prestige of the four-time World Player of the Year, who has long been seen as a more humble figure than most top-class footballers and particularly his Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo.

Messi's achievements on the field have made him one of the most marketable sportsmen in the world,  however.

Indeed, the 25-year-old was ranked 10th among Forbes' list of sports star's incomes this month with an annual $ 21 million from endorsements alone.

FC Barcelona declined to comment but said Messi's lawyers would be issuing a statement.

The player and his father are accused of three crimes of defrauding the state of taxes related to income from the use of his image in 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, Spanish media said, citing a written copy of the filing.

The striker and his father allegedly avoided taxes on money they raked in from the use of the global star's image in countries such as Britain and Switzerland.

That money allegedly went straight to companies based in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay.

Messi allegedly ceded his image rights to those companies so as to avoid tax, and he and his father acted with "total opaqueness" towards the Spanish authorities, the written filing reportedly said.

The complaint lodged with the court in Gava, near Barcelona, accused them of defrauding the state of €1.06 million in 2007, €1.57 million in 2008, and €1.53 million in 2009.

The father is accused of being the brains behind the scheme, allegedly setting it up in 2005 before his son turned 18 on June 24 of that year, Spanish media said.

The prosecutor alleged that Messi later agreed with his father's tactics so that he would avoid any taxes on income from the use of his image rights between 2006 and 2009.

The income related to his image rights included contracts with Barcelona, Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Telefonica and Kuwait Food Company, media said.

Messi's net income from image rights reportedly amounted to €2.56 million in 2007, €3.82 million in 2008 and €3.80 million in 2009.

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ENVIRONMENT

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?

Around 10,000 people demonstrated against the expansion of the El Prat airport in Barcelona on Sunday.

Why has the expansion of Barcelona airport prompted mass protests?
People march during a demonstration against the expansion of the Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo: Pau BARRENA / AFP

Several ecological and agricultural organisations, have demanded that the expansion be stopped due to the fact nearby wetlands and farms would have to be destroyed.

The demonstration took place on Calle Tarragona in the Catalan capital between Plaça d’Espanya and Plaça dels Països Catalans.

The protests still took place, even though last week, Spain suspended the €1.7 billion airport expansion project, citing differences with the Catalan government, after president Pere Aragonès said he wanted to avoid destroying La Ricarda lagoon, a natural reserve next to the airport. 

Environmentalists decided not to call off the march, in case plans for the airport expansion still went ahead.

READ ALSO: Six things you need to know about Barcelona airport’s €1.7 billion planned expansion

Political representatives from ERC, En Comú Podem and the CUP also attended, as well as the leader of Más País, Íñigo Errejón; the Deputy Mayor for Ecology of the Barcelona City Council, Janet Sanz, and the Mayor of El Prat de Llobregat, Lluís Mijoler.

People from neighbourhoods across the city marched towards Calle Tarragona and could be seen holding placards that read Nature yes, airport no and shouting slogans such as “More courgettes and fewer planes” and “Fighting for the climate, health, and life”. 

One of the largest groups of people were those from El Prat de Llobregat, the municipality which is home to the airport, who were led by tractors. 

People march during a demonstration against the expansion of Barcelona-El Prat airport. Photo by Pau BARRENA / AFP

In addition to protesting against the expansion of the El Prat airport, people were also demonstrating against the Winter Olympic Games in the Pyrenees and extensions to airports in Mallorca and Madrid. 

A representative of Zeroport, Sara Mingorría said “We are here to defend not only La Ricarda, but the entire Delta”. 

The philosopher Marina Garcés also argued that the expansion of the airport would mean “more borders, more mass tourism, more control and more precarious jobs.” 

The leader of the commons in the Catalan parliament, Jéssica Albiach, who also attended the protest, asked the PSOE for “coherence”: “You cannot be passing a law against climate change and, at the same time, defend the interests of Aena [the airport operations company]”, she said. 

She also urged the leader of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, to “definitely say no. 

If the airport expansion in Barcelona goes ahead, environmentalists say that CO2 emissions would rise by a minimum of 33 percent. These levels would surpass the limits set by the Catalan government’s climate targets.

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