- Spanish court rules that Lionel Messi and his father must testify in tax case
- The Barcelona soccer star denies all allegations of wrongdoing
- He is accused by Spanish tax authorities of handing in fraudulent returns
- The Argentine is said to owe $5 million relating to image rights revenue
Soccer star Lionel Messi must appear in court on September 17 to face possible charges of tax fraud, prosecutors in Spain said Thursday.
The four-time world player of the year and his father Jorge Horacio Messi are suspected of defrauding Spanish tax authorities of more than $5 million between 2006 and 2009. They deny the charges.
A judge will decide after the hearing whether to go ahead with the case, which is being held in a town near Barcelona -- where Messi has lived since moving from his native Argentina as a teenager.
Messi, who turns 26 next Monday, is 10th on the list of the world's highest-paid athletes as compiled by business magazine Forbes with earnings of $41 million.
According to the papers filed on June 12 by prosecutor Raquel Amado in Gava, a seaside resort close to Barcelona where Messi lives, it is alleged that they tried to avoid paying taxes in Spain by selling the player's image rights through overseas companies.
His club Barcelona said it was not involved, as the image rights payments are independent of the reported $20 million yearly salary he receives from the Spanish champion team.
Messi used his Facebook website page to deny the charges earlier this month.
"We have just known through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities," read the statement in Spanish and English.
"We are surprised about the news, because we have never committed any infringement.
"We have always fulfilled all our tax obligations, following the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying this situation."
Messi joined Barcelona as a 13-year-old in 2000, and has won six Primera Liga titles, three European Champions League crowns. Last year he scored an unprecedented 86 goals for club and country.