Sunday, June 16, 2013

Will Leo Messi pay all his taxes?

Footballer Lionel (Leo) Messi has been accused of evading more than 4 million euros in taxes to the Spanish authorities. Messi, now 25, arrived in Barcelona when he was 15 with his father, and has become since then one of the most sucessful, perhaps the most successful, football players ever. He has a good reputation not only on the pitch, but also off the pitch. He is a well behaved boy, and has contributed to charitable causes, such as unhealthy and poor children. Of course he deserves as anyone else the presumption of innocence, but perhaps he was ill advised in managing his tax issues, as many young stars are. Messi and his family have protested their innocence. They may be innocent, but it would have been better to hear from him (and his family) that he is committed to fight tax evasion, and that he commits to be the best even in that. He also belongs to the 1% of the richest people, if not in the world, for sure in Spain and Catalonia, two economies devastated by the economic crisis. And no matter how much we enjoy him on the pitch, he should feel the moral obligation to contribute to the common good. But even if he is guilty of tax evasion, we may wonder if he will ever pay all his taxes. Justice in Spain is slow, and if anything the authorities have practiced tax competition to attract the best football players, for example through the so called Beckham Law. Tax evasion in Spain is high, and many rich fortunes, some of them linked to politicians, have put their money in tax havens like Messi is accused of doing. This particular issue is surrounded by nationalism. Some Catalan nationalists claim that there are more investigations of fiscal fraud in Catalonia that in other regions of Spain. Of course, for the claim to have any weight, it should be relative to the true level of tax evasion, which is impossible to know. But even if it were true, is that bad? I mean, why not compete in being tough against tax evasion? Wouldn't that be proof of being more civilized? Messi left the formal training system at an early age (who wouldn't have done the same in his shoes?), but someone should teach him that the state is a good thing: the countries with highest welfare have a higher proportion of tax revenues over GDP and the lowest level of tax evasion and avoidance. And highest welfare means the best opportunities for the children that Leo Messi claims in his social events to be willing to help.

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