Jorge Messi, the father of Barcelona star Lionel Messi, has denied the family's involvement in tax evasion projects as alleged by a coalition of media outlets that is investigating offshore financial dealings by the rich and famous.
Spain's El Confidencial digital publication reported as part of the release of leaked documents from a Panamanian law firm that the Messi family is being accused of setting up a tax fraud network by using Panamanian company Mega Star Enterprises to avoid paying tax on image rights deals.
The accusations come one day after an international coalition of media outlets published details of an investigation into the offshore financial dealings of the world's wealthy elite, based on a massive cache of documents provided by an anonymous.
The Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists said the cache of 11.5 million records detailed the offshore holdings of a dozen current and former world leaders, along with businessmen, celebrities and sports stars.
Ramon Fonseca, a co-founder of Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca -- one of the world's largest creators of shell companies -- confirmed to Panama's Channel 2 television network that the papers were authentic and had been obtained illegally by hackers.
Also named in the "Panama Papers" was suspended UEFA president Michel Platini, while FIFA launched an investigation into links between disgraced former FIFA vice president Eugenio Figueredo and a member of its own Ethics Committee, Juan Pedro Damiani.
Messi Sr. said the family is planning to sue Spanish newspaper El Confidencial for defamation after the Barcelona star was linked to the tax evasion project.
"Lionel Messi has not participated in any of the acts in which he is being implicated," Messi Sr. said via statement on Monday. "The accusations saying that we have set up a new form of tax evasion and that we have created a network to launder money are false and libelous."
Messi Sr. also said that the accusations stem from a "previous tax structure that was set up by former financial advisers to the Messi family" and that the "fiscal consequences for Lionel Messi were already corrected at that time."
He also said that Spain's internal revenue service has received information about "all the assets derived from image rights, including those that were earned prior to and after that time."
Barcelona on Monday also released a statement saying they fully support the Messi family.
- FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) April 4, 2016
The Barcelona statement said: "The club trust in the truth of the statement made today by the Messi family. From the first moment that the documents linking Leo Messi to the 'Panama Papers' were made public, FC Barcelona have made known their concern and solidarity for the player and his family. The club have put all of their fiscal, judicial and administrative resources at the family's disposal in order to restore their honor in this case."
In a separate case, Messi and his father have been charged with three counts of tax fraud in Spain and could be sentenced to nearly two years in prison if found guilty. The Argentina captain is due in Spanish court soon along with father Jorge for a trial set for May 31-June 3.
They are accused of defrauding Spain's tax office of €4.1 million ($4.4m) in unpaid taxes from 2007-09.
The Spanish tax agency said Monday it is "closely investigating the information that has been published."
The agency, which is also probing Spaniards mentioned in the documents, said it was already looking at the tax forms presented by all those involved, including companies possibly used by them.
Messi Sr. also said that the family has retained the services of the legal firm of Cuatrecasas Gonçalves Pereira to study a potential lawsuit against El Confidencial for libel.
He added in the statement that the news connects information that is completely "unrelated and is at this time close to resolution and/or cases that have been archived by the courts, such as is the case of the 'benefit friendlies.'
"For this reason, the Messi family feels that the reports are based solely on conjecture and partial and twisted documentation that has been reported in such a way as to damage the Messi surname and the player's reputation. These accusations are especially serious because they attempt to implicate the player in serious crimes such as fiscal fraud and money laundering, causing irreparable damage to Lionel Messi."