Football Leaks Messi Foundation May Have Issued Illegal Donation Certificates to Barcelona

Lionel Messi has already been convicted of tax evasion. New reporting by DER SPIEGEL suggests that the superstar's foundation also helped FC Barcelona to save on taxes. It wasn't legal.
Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi

Foto: Alvaro Barrientos/ AP

The foundation belonging to the football superstar Lionel Messi  in Barcelona may have issued illegal donation certificates over the course of several years, according to confidential material the whistleblowing platform Football Leaks has made available to DER SPIEGEL.

Documents from the Spanish tax authority Agencia Tributaria show that FC Barcelona wired around 7.5 million euros to the Barcelona-based Fundación Leo Messi from 2010 to 2013. Internal club documents indicate that the Messi foundation issued donation certificates to the club for the millions in donations. The documents also show that the club apparently wrote off the payments to the Messi foundation as charitable donations.

Until 2013, however, the Fundación Leo Messi in Barcelona wasn't authorized to issue donation certificates. The football star, his father Jorge and his brother Rodrigo founded the charitable organization back in April 2007 in the presence of a notary public in Barcelona. But the Messi foundation was only legally registered with the Protectorado, the oversight agency for foundations in the Spanish state of Catalonia, in June 2013.

In the six years between its founding and official registration, the Messi foundation was not legally permitted to take advantage of tax exemptions for charitable organizations or issue donation certificates that would allow donors to do the same. In a statement, FC Barcelona emphasized that all money transferred to the Messi foundation in Barcelona had been for charitable purposes.

Lionel Messi's brother Rodrigo, who is responsible for the Messi foundation in Spain, responded to DER SPIEGEL by saying that the charitable organization had "duly fulfilled its legal duties" and has never been in violation of the law. The fact that the Messi foundation was only legally registered six years after its founding was a failure of "former advisers," Rodrigo Messi wrote.

Check back on Monday for the full story in English on SPIEGEL International.

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