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Prosecutors split over Messi's guilt as tax fraud trial ends

AP , Friday 3 Jun 2016
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi, right, and his father Jorge Horacio Messi sit in court in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday June 2, 2016. Lionel Messi denied having knowledge of the tax issues that led to fraud charges against him, saying Thursday he signed documents without reading them because he trusted his father and the advisers responsible for managing his finances. (Photo:AP)
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Lionel Messi's tax fraud trial has concluded with a public prosecutor calling for the player's acquittal and the government prosecutor renewing his demand for a conviction.

The four-day trial ended Friday in Barcelona with both prosecutors contending that Messi's father, Jorge Horacio Messi, was the main person responsible for defrauding Spain's tax authority of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million) from 2007-09. However, the legal representative for the tax office said the famous Barcelona footballer knew enough to also be held accountable.

He called for a prison sentence of 22 months each for both Messi and his father, while the public prosecutor requested a sentence of 18 months for the father only.

They are not likely to face any jail time even if found guilty, but could be fined and made to forfeit possible future tax benefits.

Messi and his father appeared in court on Thursday and denied any wrongdoing. Both said the player was unaware of the tax issues that led to the fraud charges.

A verdict and sentencing could be announced as early as next week, but it is expected to take longer for a decision to be made.

''Messi should be acquitted,'' public prosecutor Raquel Amado said in her closing arguments. ''The fraud occurred because of a decision of his father. There is no evidence Messi was aware of it.''

Government prosecutor Mario Maza said Messi and his father did not prove their innocence and were not able to show that the player did not have at least some knowledge of the corporate structures created to lower his tax burden in Spain.

''Messi knew more than he made it appear (in court),'' Maza said, adding that they ''showed no credibility.''

Messi and his father refused to answer questions from Maza when they testified on Thursday, speaking only when quizzed by the public prosecutor, who had already called for Messi's acquittal before the trial began.

Tax inspectors testified that they found evidence that Messi's father used companies in countries such as Uruguay, Switzerland and Belize to pay fewer taxes on the player's income from image rights. Messi's father said he was told by a legal adviser that the practice was legal.

Because of the trial, Messi has missed part of Argentina's preparations for the Copa America, which starts later Friday in the United States. He has left Spain to join his teammates ahead of the team's debut against defending champion Chile on Monday.

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