The Panama Papers reveal some own goals by soccer’s elite—including Lionel Messi

Not a fan of taxes.
Not a fan of taxes.
Image: Reuters/Juan Medina
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The Panama Papers have provided unprecedented access into the world’s elite’s tax affairs. A number of current and former heads of state, as well as celebrities have been linked with tax avoidance and money laundering—including, unsurprisingly, some of soccer’s elite.

The scandal comes just weeks after new FIFA president Gianni Infantino pledged to clean up the sport.

Lionel Messi

Barcelona’s soccer star Lionel Messi, who won World Player of the Year five times, has also been named in the documents. Messi and his father, who are already being investigated for tax evasion in Spain, were found to be the owners of a Panamanian offshore company Mega Star Enterprises. This company was not in the Spanish government’s 2013 and 2015 indictments against father and son.

Juan Pedro Damiani

The document exposes the previously unknown business dealings between Juan Pedro Damiani—a key member of the Independent Ethics Committee of soccer’s governing body, FIFA—and three FIFA officials indicted in the US.

Damiani, who is also the president of Uruguay’s Club Atlético Peñarol, and his law firm had worked for seven offshore companies linked to FIFA’S ex-vice president Eugenio Figueredo, who was charged by the US for wire fraud and money laundering. Damiani’s law firm had also acted as an as an intermediary for a company linked to Hugo and Mariano Jinkis, the father-and-son duo charged for their role in bribery and kickback schemes.

FIFA has since launched an internal investigation to review the allegations against Damiani. The leaks don’t show illegally activity by Damiani and his law firm, but the links to already indicted officials is pretty damning.

Michel Platini

UEFA’s ex-president Michel Platini was banned from soccer eight years for a controversial $2-million payment he received from FIFA in 2011. The latest leaks risk further tarring Platini’s name. Platini created an offshore company in Panama in 2007—the same year he was elected the president of UEFA, European soccer’s governing body.

Jérôme Valcke

Jérôme Valcke, the ex-secretary general of FIFA, from 2007 until 2015 after which he was banned on corruption charges, was unsurprisingly also named in the leaked documents. Valcke was listed as the owner of a British Virgin Islands company called Umbelina SA. The company was apparently used to purchase a yacht.

Leonardo Ulloa

Part of Leicester City’s dramatic rise up the Premier League, Ulloa had signed over his economic and image rights to Jump Drive Sport Rights LLC in 2008. The documents reveal that Jump Drive’s director and shareholder weren’t actually people, but two companies based in Samoa.

Real Sociedad

The players in the Spanish team Real Sociedad were apparently paid in a way that dramatically reduced both their tax bills and those of the club. The documents reveal that the players only reported a fraction of their salaries to the Spanish authorities and the foreign players were paid via foreign companies and banks from a number of countries, including the South Pacific nation of Niue, Panama, and the British Virgin Islands.

For example, Spanish authorities were told Darko Kovacevic, a Serbian player, was earning about $2,000 a month during the 2006-07 season, when he was actually bringing in closer to $1.4 million that season.