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Lionel Messi misses first day of tax fraud trial

Messi & his father are not obliged to attend court every day, but they will have to testify on Thursday.

FILE: Barcelona striker Lionel Messi. Picture: Barcelona FC/Facebook.

MADRID - The trial of Lionel Messi on charges of tax evasion opened in Barcelona on Tuesday, but injury prevented soccer's five-times World Player of the Year from attending. The Barcelona star will be in court on Thursday to testify.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, are accused by the Spanish tax office of defrauding the government of €4.2 million ($4.7 million) between 2007 and 2009. They could face jail terms of up to 22 months if found guilty.

Both have denied the allegations and missed Tuesday's hearing, which lasted over an hour. The 28-year-old player and his father are not obliged to attend the court every day, but they will have to testify on Thursday.

"The intention of Mr. Lionel was to attend the plenary hearing, but he has suffered an injury," Messi's lawyer, Javier Sanchez-Vera, said in court. He presented a medical report.

The Barcelona forward hurt his back during Argentina's international friendly against Honduras last Friday. Asked by the judge whether Messi would attend Thursday's hearing, the lawyer said he would.

The case centres on the player's image rights and a web of shell companies allegedly used to evade taxes on income from those rights. Tuesday's hearing showed that Spain's tax office made 20 inspections of Messi during its two-year investigation.

According to the prosecutors' office, revenue was hidden using shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

Messi and his father paid €5 million to the tax authorities as a "corrective" measure after being formally investigated in June 2013.

In addition to Messi, Spain's tax office has also begun investigating the finances of high-profile Barcelona players such as Neymar Jr, Javier Mascherano and Adriano.

A resident in Barcelona since 2000, Messi became a Spanish citizen in 2005. He is 10th on Forbes Magazine's list of the world's highest-earning athletes over the past decade, with an income of $350 million.

Messi has scored 314 goals in 348 appearances for Barca. His five World Footballer of the Year titles are a record.

He has also won eight La Liga titles, four Copa del Rey trophies and four Champions League crowns with Barca.

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