Spanish judge Baltasar Garzon believes Lionel Messi was made a scapegoat when the Barcelona superstar stood trial this summer for tax evasion.
Messi and his father Jorge Messi were handed a 21-month suspended sentence by a court in Barcelona on July 6 after being found guilty of three counts of tax fraud.
Both are appealing to the Spanish supreme court.
Asked about Messi’s case, Garzon, a Barcelona supporter, told Sport newspaper: “Leo is a person that I know, that I admire and I believe that we are all equal in the eyes of the law.
“I’m convinced everything will go well. Without a doubt someone has tried to use him as a scapegoat.”
Prosecutors maintained that Messi and his father, Jorge, used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay as well as shell companies in the U.K. and Switzerland to avoid paying taxes totalling €4.1m on earnings from image rights from 2007 to 2009.
Messi admitted in court that he signed many documents without reading their contents and that he visited a notary’s office to go through with setting up a company to handle his finances without understanding what was going on.
“I’m convinced that Messi was not aware of the operations that may have been carried out,” Garzon said. “Messi can be many things, but I doubt he is a fraudster.”
The 60-year-old Garzon, who is known in Spain for his campaigns against terrorist cells and former dictators, also spoke about the fraud case against another Barca star, Neymar and his father.
A court in Madrid last month reopened the case relating to the player’s move to the Camp Nou in 2013 from Brazilian club Santos.
A judge had originally archived the case in July, but prosecutors successfully argued that both Neymar and his father were aware of potentially fraudulent dealings between Barca and Santos.
“The judge will have to evaluate if there is enough material or not,” Garzon said. “The most that can happen is that it goes to trial.
“I wish Neymar the best of luck.”