BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA (REUTERS) - Barcelona's Argentina forward Lionel Messi and his father denied wrongdoing on Wednesday (June 12) after the Spanish tax authorities accused them of defrauding the state of more than four million euros ($5.3 million).
The World Player of the Year and his father Jorge allegedly filed fraudulent tax returns for the years 2006 to 2009, according to an official for the prosecutor's office for tax crimes in Catalonia.
"We learned about the action begun by the Spanish prosecutor through the media,"Rosario-born Messi, who has been resident in Barcelona since 2000 and gained Spanish citizenship in 2005, wrote in a statement on his official Facebook page.
"It is something that surprises us because we have never committed any offence," the statement added.
"We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations following the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying this situation."
Via a complex web of shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and theUnited Kingdom, income from the sale of Messi's image rights was effectively hidden from the Spanish authorities, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.
The pair could face up to four years in jail if found guilty, according to Spanish law.
Messi, who will be 26 this month, is one of the world's highest-paid athletes with a salary of just over $20 million a season, according to Forbes magazine.