Javier Mascherano to be charged with tax fraud, report says

Barcelona star Javier Mascherano has paid €1.5 million plus interest in back-taxes to Spain's fiscal authorities for failing to report earnings on image rights in 2011 and 2012, according to a report in El Pais.

Spain's tax agency plans to file a complaint against him for two counts of tax fraud, even though the Argentina star has paid the sum plus €200,000 in interest, the report says, citing an unnamed source within Spain's internal revenue service.

Mascherano opted to pay the back taxes and the fine based on his legal counsel's advice but was not able to avoid the tax fraud complaint, El Pais said, despite the fact that the state cannot seek more restitution and can only possibly request a minimum punishment. The source said the state will likely ask Mascherano to enter a guilty plea.

The agency opened an investigation into Mascherano's taxes shortly after a Portuguese TV station claimed that the player had avoided paying taxes in Madeira's duty free zone.

The probe revealed that the fraud had been committed in two tax communities -- Madeira and Miami -- both of them created while the player was with Liverpool and maintained once he moved to Barcelona. The unpaid taxes were €587,822 in 2011 and €968,907 in 2012, according to the report.

The case is similar to that of Mascherano's Barcelona and Argentina teammate, Lionel Messi, who is to stand trial over allegations that he benefited from the network of companies which were established to deal with his financial affairs, leading to the evasion of €4.1 million in taxes between 2007 and 2009.

If found guilty, both Messi and his father could be fined up to €21m and receive a one-year suspended prison sentence.

The Spanish government has recently been cracking down particularly hard on tax evasion amid the country's continuing economic woes, with Messi one of a number of high-profile targets against whom cases have been opened.

La Liga clubs and players have long used "image rights" to avoid paying higher income tax rates, while the Spanish authorities have regularly found this approach to be illegal, with current Barcelona coach Luis Enrique among those who have previously made a settlement.

According to El Pais, Spain considers Madeira a tax haven and investigated a business Mascherano incorporated there in 2010 called Anadyr Overseas, to which Mascherano sold his image rights for €5m.

Spain's tax law allows a player to sell up to 15 percent of his image rights to a company, image rights which Barcelona began to pay to Anadyr Overseas, but Hacienda claimed that Mascherano did not pay, despite the fact that he had established residency in Spain.

The report also said that Spain is charging Mascherano for failing to pay taxes on image rights from Nike via Lofer, a company he established out of Miami. More than one third of the back taxes were related to the Lofer income.

El Pais said that Mascherano's lawyers, David Aineto and Diego Artacho, have opted to pay the fine.