A Spanish judge has ruled that Lionel Messi will face trial for alleged tax evasion.
The Barcelona forward and his father Jorge, who both denied wrongdoing, are accused of hiding more than four million euros (£3.4) by filing incomplete returns for the years 2006 to 2009.
The judge rejected a prosecution recommendation to drop the charges on the grounds the player’s father was responsible for the finances.
The Judge ruled: “In this type of crime, it is not necessary for someone to have complete knowledge of all the accounting and business operations nor the quantity, rather it is sufficient to be aware of the designs to commit fraud and consent to them.”
The accused pair, who deposited €5 016 542.27 last year as a “corrective payment” have five days to appeal against the ruling.
Messi is one of the world’s highest-paid athletes and generates incomes in form of endorsements from partners including Adidas, PepsiCo, Proctor and Gamble, Banco Sabadell, Dannone and Kuwait Food Company.
The four-time Fifa Player of the Year and his father are suspected of using a complex web of shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and the United Kingdom, to hide the sale of Messi’s image rights.
The court decision comes at a time when the Argentina captain’s Spanish employers tackle a separate legal proceeding involving misappropriation of funds from the transfer fee to buy Brazil striker Neymar from Santos in 2013.
Barca president Sandro Rosell resigned in January, but insisted he had “acted correctly” over the transfer.