Lionel Messi tax fraud trial in Spain set to start in May

MADRID -- Lionel Messi's tax fraud trial in Spain has been set for May 31-June 3, conflicting with the start of the centennial Copa America in the United States.

The Copa America Centenario will kick off on June 3, meaning the five-time world player of the year may not make it in time for Argentina's opening game.

The full Copa America schedule won't be known until the draw on Feb. 21, but Messi's lawyers are expected to try to change the trial dates.

The Barcelona forward is already expected to have a shorter preparation ahead of the tournament if his side reaches the Champions League final, which is scheduled for May 28 in Milan.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, have been charged with three counts of tax fraud and could be sentenced to nearly two years in prison if found guilty.

They are accused of defrauding Spain's tax office of €4.1 million ($4.4m) in unpaid taxes from 2007-09.

The case is centered on the alleged unlawful activities of Messi's father, but authorities said the Barcelona player knew enough to also merit being named in the case.

The attorney's office called for a prison sentence of 22 months and 15 days for Messi and his father, along with a fine in the amount defrauded, payment of all legal proceedings and the loss of any possible tax benefits for a year and a half.

The high-profile case has been taken as Spain's tax authorities maintain that image rights payments made to the player have been channelled through offshore tax-havens, leading to the evasion of €4.1m in taxes between 2007 and 2009.

Since news of the issue broke during the summer of 2013, the Messis have reportedly paid €5m to the authorities, to cover money owed from the 2007 to 2009 period, plus interest. They are also reported to have paid €10m in taxes due on such income for the years 2010 and 2011.