Madrid - A Spanish court on Monday rejected public prosecutors' request to
drop charges of tax fraud against four-time world footballer of the year Lionel
Messi and ordered the probe to go ahead.
Despite the court case, Messi continues to lead advertising campaigns for brands like Adidas and video games maker EA Sports.
Along with Adidas other brands like Lays, Gillette and Turkish Airlines have remained loyal to the player during the investigations and there are no signs that any sponsor are considering dropping the four time Ballon d'Or winner.
forward and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, were
accused last year of not paying €4.16 million euros in tax on
earnings from the player's image rights from 2007-2009 through the creation of
a web of shell companies in Belize and Uruguay.
Both Messi and his father denied wrongdoing and pointed the
finger instead at a former agent of the player when they were quizzed at a
court in Gava, the Barcelona suburb where the player lives, in September 2013.
Based on the
Messis' testimony, public prosecutors called for the case to be shelved but the
court on Monday ruled that Messi "could have
known and consented" to the tax fraud and the prosecution of the case
should go ahead.
Messi is the fourth richest sportsperson in the world, according to a ranking
published in June by Forbes business magazine. He moved up to
fourth from 10th place in just a year with an annual income of just under $65
million, it said.
Between 2007 and
2009, the Barcelona superstar earned more than €10.17 million in image rights.
In the unlikely event that Messi and his father are convicted, the pair could face up to six years in prison and nearly $32 million in fines.