Lionel Messi's tax case explained: From what he owes to what punishment he faces

The Argentine star is in court this week to face tax evasion allegations

The trial of Lionel Messi on tax evasion charges started on Tuesday morning in Barcelona, with the Argentine set to give evidence on Thursday morning.

The trial is garnering a lot of attention given the fact that Messi is not the first Barcelona player to become embroiled in a tax evasion court case.

Amid accusations of an anti-Catalan sentiment from Barcelona fans, as well as a political dimension to the case, Andy West from the BBC joined Pat Kenny to discuss the ins and outs of a complex process.

How far back does this go?

As West states, the issue dates back as far as 2007, arising from a problem with Messi's image rights.

"That's his commercial deals and not the actual salary he earned from Barcelona," explains West, "but all the separate personal things he had set up at the time. It's alleged that they were channeled through offshore accounts illegally, and that therefore he was evading tax."

What are Messi's camp saying in their defense?

Messi's camp are not denying the allegations, but they are denying that the footballer knew anything about it. They have paid money in lieu of the charges, and Messi says he is simply a footballer who has no idea of what complex documentation he is signing.

"Basically, he's blaming it all on his dad, with his dad's consent," said West. "It's quite common for South American footballers to have their family members managing their affairs, so rather than having professional accountants and lawyers, they just use their dads and that's what Messi does so it's his dad, Jorge, who is his manager and they've obviously agreed between them that it's all on the dad. Whether it's true or not is open to conjecture.

"He [Jorge] was the one responsible for managing all the affairs and Lionel, basically, says 'I don't ever look at my contracts, I just sign where my dad tells me to.'

How much money are we looking at?

The money paid to Messi during the 2007-09 period in question is in the region of €10 million, and while the money the Spanish state believe they have been defrauded of has been paid in arrears, it is still a substantial chunk of change.

Will Messi go to jail?

In a word - no. The likelihood of Messi going to jail is incredibly small but it will depend on how his defense is presented to the judge and how he receives it. The most likely outcome is a substantial fine and a suspended sentence.

West explains: "Ultimately what people want to know is, 'Is Lionel Messi going to prison?' and the answer to that is almost certainly no, because they are looking at a 22 month sentence. In Spain, anything less than two years is normally suspended so you don't actually serve it."

Is there a precedent for this?

A very similar case was just dealt with, and a similar outcome to the one expected also played out there. Another Argentine star, Javier Mascherano, received a suspended sentence and a substantial fine.

"This happened just a few weeks ago, another Barcelona player, Javier Mascherano - he used to play for Liverpool - he had the same thing. He was accused of avoiding taxes and he was found guilty, paid a big fine and he was given a year sentence, but that was suspended so he's out of jail as well."

How is it playing out with Barcelona fans?

"It's a very interesting side issue, but entirely related, in that a lot of people in Barcelona feel that their club is being persecuted," said West. "There's a big conspiracy theory because, as you may be aware, there is a big political movement in Catalunya, of which Barcelona is the capital city, for independence from Spain. They want to set up a new, independent state and break away from Spain. 

"That's an ongoing process and Barcelona Football Club, as the most high profile organisation in Catalunya, have always been at the centre of that political movement. The fans, at every game, sing for independence.

"Whenever they play Real Madrid they unfurl these big banners saying 'Catalunya is not Spain', so the world can see it, and they feel in Barcelona that they're being punished by the Spanish state.

"They say, 'Well hang on, why are all of our players getting in trouble?' 

"There have been a few other things aswell. Barcelona got a transfer ban from FIFA, they've got fined by UEFA, they've been banned from hanging their flags in the cup final recently."