FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi Faces Tax Fraud Allegations

Argentine footballer and FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi will appear in a Barcelona court on Friday as authorities continue allege the he is guilty of massive tax fraud. He and his father Jorge Messi are accused of withholding over 4 million euros in tax payments.

Lionel Messi, a four-time FIFA World Player of the Year, is one of the world's highest-paid sportspeople with a salary of over 16 million euros a year. The closed-court hearing today concerns three counts of tax fraud. Spanish tax authorities, working on behalf of one of the worst-hit economies in the ongoing European recession, are now cracking down more severely on fraud.

Messi is alleged to be withholding earnings from companies who use and patent his image abroad in Belize and Uruguay. Other income from his licensed image comes from contracts with Adidas, Banco Sabadell, Pepsi-Cola, Danone, Proctor and Gamble, and the Kuwait Food Company.

Authorities are still maintaining their allegations despite Messi's father making a payment of 4.16 million euros of the allegedly unpaid interest.

These allegations are a hard blow to Messis's image of humble origins compared to many other top footballers.

Joining Barcelona at a young age, Lionel Messis has been one of football's most iconic stars, and has one of the most successful images in the game. He has become one of the most marketable faces in the industry, having signed million-dollar contracts with global advertising firms.

"We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations," Messi insists, and that he and his father have "never committed any infringement."