MADRID (AFP) – Barcelona star Lionel Messi and his father have repaid five million euros ($6.6 million) owed to the taxman before facing court on tax evasion charges, according to a judge's ruling obtained Thursday.
The tax fraud charges filed in June were a stunning blow to the prestige of Messi, long seen as a more humble figure than most top-class footballers -- in particular his fierce Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo.
The ruling by a judge in Gava, a Mediterranean coastal town near Barcelona, said the Argentine player's father Jorge Messi had deposited 5.02 million euros with the court on August 14 to cover more than four million euros in unpaid taxes, plus interest.
The judge rejected a prosecutors' request for the 26-year-old Argentina international to be obliged to deposit a financial bond so as to ensure he pays any fine on the tax charges.
A bond was unnecessary "given the worldwide renown of professional footballer Mr. Lionel Andres Messi Cuccittini and his resulting solvency," the judge said, also citing the fact that the taxes had been repaid.
The judge said he was consulting with the prosecution before making a ruling on a separate request by Messi's lawyers for the planned September 17 hearing to be postponed.
Prosecutors have charged the four-time World Player of the Year and his father with defrauding the tax office of income related to the use of his image from 2006-2009.
Messi and his father are accused of trying to deceive the state by ceding the player's image rights to companies based in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay so they would pay no tax in Spain.
Prosecutor allege they drew up deals related to Messi's image rights in Britain and Switzerland, ensuring that the income went straight to the tax havens without passing through Spain.
Messi's lawyers office, Juarez Veciana, has said the player "scrupulously complies with Spanish legislation" and will pay any amount he is found to owe.
Messi's achievements on the field have made him one of the most marketable sportsmen in the world. The Argentine is ranked 10th amongst Forbes' list of sports stars' incomes with an annual $21m from endorsements alone.