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    Argentina's Lionel Messi waits to receive the second place medal during the Copa America Centenario awards ceremony in East Rutherford, New Jersey, United States, on June 26, 2016

    Year in Review: Messi Business

    © AFP 2019 / Nicholas Kamm
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    Year in Review: Highlights of 2016 (25)

    Earning money does not always leave time to manage it properly, which turned out to be the downfall of soccer star Lionel Messi. In his case, Panama Papers discoveries only added fuel to the fire already lit by the Spanish prosecutors.

    MOSCOW (Sputnik) In 2013, Messi, arguably the greatest soccer player in the world, and his father were accused of defrauding Spain out of 4.16 million euros (roughly $4.3 million). In 2007-2009, Messi failed to pay tax on sponsorship deals as he had sold his image rights to what appeared to be shell companies in Uruguay and Belize. The soccer star did not deny that the money had never made it to the Spain’s tax authorities, only the degree of his awareness of the schemes behind the tax evasion. Messi said in court that he distanced himself from the financial aspect of his career and entrusted it completely to his father. The Messis paid 5 million euros to Spain in 2013, as a compensation for the previously withheld taxes. The story did not end there.

    In 2015, the father and son were put on trial, which culminated in the 2016 "guilty" ruling. Lionel and Jorge were to pay 2 and 1.5 million euros fines, respectively, and received a 21-month prison sentence each. Messi is, however, unlikely to find himself behind the bars.

    The Panama Papers revealed the existence of Mega Star Enterprises, the company that was set up to benefit Lionel and Jorge Messi and seemed to have slipped unnoticed by the Spanish prosecutors. Mega Star Enterprises was established in 2012, outside of the time period covered by the Spanish investigation.

    On April 4, Jorge Messy issued a statement denying his family’s involvement with the tax evasion schemes alleged by the media outlets who used the Panama Papers discoveries as their source and threatened to sue the journalists who published such allegations. Spain tax authorities said they were investigating the Panama Papers claims.

    Messi is only one of the soccer celebrities put under scrutiny due to the Panama leak, even though his may be the biggest name.

    The international soccer authority entered 2016 already shaken by the 2015 corruption case, initiated by the US prosecutors. Numerous FIFA officials were accused of money laundering, fraud and taking bribes. Sepp Blatter, the president of the association, was removed from the office and subsequently banned from participating in any FIFA activities for eight years. The latter sentence was reduced to six years in February.

    The International Federation of Football Association (FIFA) had a difficult 2015, but any hopes to catch a break in 2016 vanished with the latest revelations.

    Panama Papers indicated that FIFA’s Independent Ethics Committee, which handled the bans and sentences of FIFA officials in the aftermath of the corruption scandal, may be not quite blameless itself.

    The leaked documents showed that Juan Pedro Damiani, one of the committee’s members, was tied to Eugenio Figueredo, a former FIFA vice president, who had been charged by US authorities with fraud and money laundering, arrested in Switzerland and then, facing the choice between extradition to the United States and Uruguay, sent, at his request, to Uruguay.

    Damiani and his company appeared to have been working for the offshore companies linked to Figueredo as well as Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, also allegedly involved in the 2015 corruption case.

    While Damiani’s actions are not illegal, they may discredit him in the eyes of the ethics committee, which confirmed it was examining the new facts. Damiani resigned from the committee in April.

    The Panama Papers also provided additional information related to the FIFA officials already under investigation by the United States and businessmen said to be involved in it.

    Year in Review: Highlights of 2016 (25)


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