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Barcelona, Spain • Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta defended Lionel Messi against allegations of tax fraud, a case that experts say could carry a prison sentence for the Argentina star.
A Spanish state prosecutor filed a fraud complaint Wednesday alleging that Messi and his father Jorge avoided paying $5.3 million in back taxes through illegal overseas tax havens.
"I am convinced that neither Leo nor his father have committed any infraction," Laporta told Cope radio Thursday. "The situation could be that they don't have any responsibility in these events. There can be third parties who are responsible.
"I know them and they have always wanted to act within the law, and that's how they acted with the club, at least when I was president."
Laporta said that Messi and his family lacked the financial know-how necessary to have set up the network of shell companies and tax havens in countries including Belize and Uruguay described in the prosecutor's complaint.
"They were always careful, let's say even wary, when faced with these situations that were over their heads because they didn't have the knowledge of a lawyer or a tax expert, and so they went out and got advisers," he said.
Messi has denied any wrongdoing and his lawyers issued a statement on Thursday saying that he "has always punctually attended to his fiscal obligations."