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'Messi & Friends' corruption probe case moved to Barcelona court

A Spanish judge has ruled that an ongoing investigation into potential fraud in 'Messi & Friends' exhibition matches, played in summer 2012 and 2013, should be undertaken by prosecutors in Barcelona.

Spanish Guardia Civil investigators have been looking into whether these exhibition games, in which Barcelona star Lionel Messi's charitable foundation had a role, were used by Colombian drug traders to launder money.

Spanish news agency Efe says that the authorities in Madrid have asked that the case be moved to Barcelona where it can then be determined if any defrauding of the public purse has taken place. No ruling has been made on any of the evidence, but it has been decided that Barcelona judges have competency as the 28-year-old lives in the Catalan capital.

'Messi & Friends' games were played in 2013 in Medellin (Colombia), Lima (Peru) and the U.S. cities of Chicago and Los Angeles. In summer 2012 a similar schedule saw matches in Bogota (Colombia), Cancun (Mexico) and Miami (U.S.).

Messi and three then-Blaugrana teammates -- Javier Mascherano, Jose Pinto and Daniel Alves -- reportedly gave testimony to Guardia Civil investigators gathering evidence back in November 2013.

When reports of the investigation first surfaced in December 2013, Leo Messi Management released a statement stating that Jorge Messi, Lionel Messi's father, was not connected at all with the case -- and that the games had been organised by an unnamed third-party company, with Lionel just taking part on the pitch, and Jorge solely making sure some of the proceeds went to local NGOs.

Lionel and Jorge Messi have also appeared in court in recent years in an unrelated case in which they have paid taxes due (and penalties) on income which had at first been declared as image rights.

Mascherano this week was charged with two counts of defrauding the Spanish tax authorities of a total of more than €1.5 million.

Barca teammate Neymar's tax and business affairs are also under scrutiny at present -- with a Brazilian court alleging he and his father had evaded almost €14m in taxes between 2011 and 2013.

The legal case regarding a potential fraud in Neymar's move to the Catalan court in summer 2013 also remains under investigation. That case was also moved from Madrid to Barcelona, in a ruling made last May.

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