BARCELONA, Spain, June 2 (UPI) -- Was Lionel Messi leaving tax collectors behind like an outstretched leg of a helpless defender?
The world's most famous soccer player faced his harshest critics Thursday, when he appeared in front of a court in Barcelona, with father Jorge Horacia Messi, at his side. The duo are facing three counts of tax fraud, which carry a penalty of two years in prison if found guilty.
Messi, 28, is accused of stiffing Spain's tax authority of $4.5 million from 2007 to 2009. The Barcelona and Argentina legend and his father are accused of using fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid the taxes. The taxes come from $11.3 million made from image rights over that span.
Messi missed partial preparation for the Copa American Centenario with his Argentinian national squad due to the trial. The tournament starts Friday, but he is expected to reunite with the squad for its tournament opener June 7 against Chile in Santa Clara.
The footballer claims that he does not inspect or scrutinize his contracts, opting to let his father and advisors "look after his financial affairs," according to ESPN FC.
Fiscalia, the Spanish revenue service, accepted Messi's excuse, but Abogacia del Estado continued with its charges.
"The prosecutors have called for 22-month jail sentences for both accused, but it is very unlikely that this will happen even should they be found guilty. Both deny any wrongdoing, and €5m (about $5.6 million) has already been paid in arrears and extra charges," ESPN FC's Dermot Corrigan reports.