Lionel Messi's trial for tax evasion is due to begin in Spain today (May 31), with the five-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner set to give evidence on Thursday.
The Barcelona star will stand accused along with his father, Jorge. The two men are alleged to have used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to hide image rights earnings, defrauding Spanish authorities of more than €4m. Both deny any wrongdoing, with the younger Messi saying, "I sign contracts but I never look at them."
Though father and son have been implicated, the Mirror reports that only Jorge is being pursued by the public prosecutor. However, the Spanish tax agency is demanding heavy fines and prison sentences of almost two years for both.
Past cases suggest the latter is a highly unlikely outcome for the younger Messi. His Barcelona and international teammate Javier Mascherano admitted two counts of fraud after failing to declare €1.5million worth of earnings – which, like Messi, related to image rights. He was sentenced to one year imprisonment in January 2016, but there is no sign that the former Liverpool player will ever see the inside of a cell after he paid a considerable fine.
Neymar has also faced accusations of fraud regarding his image rights, with Brazilian prosecutors filing a formal complaint against the national team captain earlier this year. These charges relate to his time playing in Brazil. Neymar has also appeared in a Spanish court regarding his contentious move to Barcelona in 2013.
And, earlier this year, it was reported that Xabi Alonso was facing charges similar to those of his former Anfield teammate Mascherano. In February 2016, a Spanish prosecutor requested an investigation into the Bayern Munich player regarding tax fraud alleged to have taken place between 2009 and 2011. There have been no further public developments in this story.
The trial is set to last for three days, with the younger Messi expected to take the stand on the concluding day.