Argentina and FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi is among the biggest international names linked to the massive data dump collectively known as the Panama Papers.
On Sunday, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) published more than 11 million documents from 2.6 terabytes of leaked data.
The documents revealed that Panama law firm Mossack Fonseca helped establish shell companies and offshore accounts for politicians, wealthy businessmen and, as CNN reported, other “global power players.”
The ICIJ, which included cooperation from Madrid-based newspaper El País, reported that Messi benefited from a “tax-fraud network” made up of offshore shell accounts established in order to evade paying taxes. Notably, Messi allegedly owned a 50% stake in a shell corporation called Mega Star Enterprises. According to the documents, Mega Star was temporarily overlooked by Mossack Fonseca.
The ICIJ also released signatures belonging to Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, that link them to the acquisition of Mega Star. The documents also named other FIFA officials and the suspended former chief of UEFA, Michel Platini.
Messi has vehemently denied the allegations and is reportedly considering suing over what he called “false and slanderous” claims.
FC Barcelona also said in a statement that it will support Messi however it can.
“Since the very first moment that the ‘Panama Papers’ which accuse Leo Messi were released, F.C. Barcelona has sent its affection and support to the player and to his whole family,” the club said in a statement released Monday. “The club makes all of its judicial means, fiscal and administrative, at the family’s disposal in order to make his actions and honour clear in this case.”
For its part, Mossack Fonseca released a lengthy statement on the documents’ release, saying media reports on the documents portrayed an “inaccurate view” of the services the firm provides.
On reports of tax evasion specifically, the firm said:
Our company does not advise clients on the structuring of corporate vehicles and the use they may make of them. We likewise do not offer solutions whose purpose is to hide unlawful acts such as tax evasion. Our clients request our services after being duly advised by qualified professionals in their places of business. Moreover, it should be made clear that tax avoidance and evasion are not the same thing. For example, a client can use the structures provided by us for tax optimization of his/her estate, such as taking advantage of provisions in treaties for avoiding international double taxation. Such behaviour is perfectly legal.
Independently of the situation involving the Panama Papers, Messi and his father will appear in court later this year on separate charges of tax evasion of up to $4.5 million. A Spanish court claims that from 2007 to 2009, Messi and his father set up a series of companies in order to evade taxes on image rights.
Messi reportedly earned $74 million in 2015, according to Forbes.