On Wednesday, Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio
Messi, were formally accused of tax fraud worth €4 million ($5.3 million) by
Spanish Inquisition public prosecutors in Barcelona.
El País reports:
[The charges] relate to a failure to declare part of the star's earnings from his image rights in tax declarations made between 2007 and 2009....
According to the suit, it was Messi's father who came up with the alleged tax avoidance "strategy," which the player "ratified" when he turned 18. The scheme purportedly revolves around "pretending" to transfer the Barcelona player's image rights to front companies in the tax havens of Belize and Uruguay.
The setup, said public prosecutor Raquel Amado, allegedly allowed Messi's earnings to be transferred from the companies paying for his image rights to the tax haven-based businesses without being subject to barely any tax and without the knowledge of the Spanish tax office.
Messi, winner of FIFA's Ballon d'Or (given to the best player in the world) every year since its inception in 2010, was the 10th-highest paid athlete on the globe last year, taking home an estimated $41.3 million from salary and endorsements.
One might wonder why someone making so much money would feel the need to commit tax fraud (assuming the allegations have merit), but this kind of chicanery has long been common in Spain, where the government has traditionally taken a "don't ask, don't tell" approach of sorts to its wealthier residents' tax returns. In recent years, however, authorities have cracked down on tax evasion as part of the government's larger effort to reduce the deficit. It appears Messi got caught up in this campaign.
Moreover, while frowned upon, tax evasion is not exactly unheard of in the world of international soccer. In 2011, reports suggested that top English players such as Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Arsenal's Theo Walcott were involved in a tax scheme of dubious legality, while Diego Maradona, Messi's mentor and fellow Argentine, still owes around $50 million to the Italian government in unpaid taxes and interest.
Messi, in a statement posted to his Facebook page, has denied the allegations:
We have just learned through the media about the claim filed by the Spanish tax authorities. We are surprised about the news because we have never committed any infringement. We have always fulfilled all of our tax obligations according to the advice of our tax consultants, who will take care of clarifying the situation.
In the meantime, here's a video of a wonderful Messi goal and even more wonderful commentary by Ray Hudson:
EPA/PIER PAOLO FERRERI
Bon Jovi is waiving his concert fees in order to make a stop in cash-strapped, unemployment-ridden Spain, after initially planning to skip the country for fear that fans wouldn't be willing to shell out for the tickets, which can cost up to €99 (roughly $130) for top seats.
But the singer said he didn't want to let fans down. Instead, tickets will be selling for between €18 and €39 -- just enough to cover the costs of staging the concert. The decision was hailed as a classy move, at least by those commenting on the El Mundo report about the decision, and the tickets have already sold out.
For Tommy and Gina, right Jon?
Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Clear Channel
The normally scenic streets of Seville have taken a turn for the unsightly thanks to an ongoing garbage collectors' strike that is entering its second week.
The narrow alleys of the ancient city -- one of Spain's most popular tourist destinations -- are currently choked with more than 4,500 tons of trash, according to UPI. Garbage workers in the city are striking in response to proposed austerity measures that would reduce their wages by 5 percent while increasing their working hours. What does the slow pileup of 4,500 tons of trash look like? It's not pretty:
Gross? Certainly. But still not as gross as Naples.
Spain's King Juan Carlos is showing solidarity with his financially-distressed country by announcing salary cuts for the royal family today. As civil servants protest pay cuts and the government struggles to stabilize the precarious economy, the royals have decided that the king and prince will take a 7-percent reduction in their salary, according to Spanish news sources. This year, King Juan Carlos and his son Prince Felipe will have to live on approximately $350,000 and $160,000 respectively.
With nearly one-quarter of the workforce currently unemployed, Spain's austerity measures are hitting the public hard. But while Madrid burned (figuratively, thankfully) under peril of financial collapse, the royal family drew ire this spring when the King was injured on an elephant hunt in Botswana.
Calls for the end of the monarchy and return of the republic ensued. Of course, with an annual budget of only $10 million, doing away with the entire monarchy would amount to savings of about .008 percent of the cost of the deal to bail out Spain's banks.
According to El Pais, the cuts to the royal budget, which were decided upon in April, will affect only the protocol budget and 11 senior officials of the monarchy. Frustration with the royals had already compelled the government to release information about the King's finances in December of 2011.
The royal family's self-imposed austerity measure will also include a 7-percent cut to protocol funds, which cover the royal party costs, for the entire royal family. How the news will play among the financially distressed Spanish public remains unclear.
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This just in from Spain, where apparently equal rights trump biology: The European Union Court of Justice has ruled that Spanish working fathers have the same rights to breastfeeding leave as do working mothers.
Thursday's ruling grants Spanish dads the same rights as the mother of their child to leave work up to twice a day for a total of an hour or to shorten their workday by 30 minutes for the first nine months of the baby's life.
The court called the law "an unjustified discrimination on grounds of sex" that fathers weren't granted breastfeeding leave in the same instances as women were.
All jokes aside, cheers to Spain for recognizing that mothers and fathers should take an equal part in childrearing. The court ruled that the prior law, which only allowed fathers to apply for breastfeeding leave if the mother of their children was fully employed, was "liable to perpetuate a traditional distribution of the roles of men and women by keeping men in a role subsidiary to that of women in relation to the exercise of their parental duties."
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The FBI is in hot water after using a Spanish parliamentarian's picture to create a ‘What would Osama Bin Laden look like now?' image. The photo, released last week, took parts of United Left party lawmaker Gaspar Llamazares' face and combined them with an older photo of bin Laden, to create the digital image -- and Mr. Llamazares is not amused.
"Apologies are not enough," he told a news conference at Spain's parliament after the U.S. ambassador issued an apology Monday. "I want a thorough investigation into this disgraceful case, which not only causes concern but also worry and indignation over the behavior of the FBI."
The FBI claimed the new bin Laden image was created with "cutting edge" technology. However, after the comparison was made, the Bureau admitted that it had taken a photo of Llamazares' 2004 campaign poster off Google Images. FBI Spokesman Ken Hoffman told the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, "The forensic artist was unable to find suitable features among the reference photographs and obtained those features, in part, from a photograph he found on the internet." Sometimes, the warnings about taking things off the internet come embarrassingly true.
As an isolated incident, it's odd enough, but this is now the third bizarre diplomatic row between Spain and the United States in the last few years.
This isn't the first photo related row between the two countries. Last year, a photo of Spanish Prime Minister Jose Zapatero, wife, and two daughters caused uproar in Spain after being released by the State Department. The picture, taken with Barack and Michelle Obama in New York, was the first public image of the two daughters (Zapatero has been adamant of protecting their privacy) ever shown.
HELIOS DE LA RUBIA/AFP/Getty Images
The United States State Department got a crash course in the perils of social networking over the weekend.
Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero and his family posed for a picture with Barack and Michelle Obama at the U.N. What the Zapateros didn't know was that the picture would be posted online to the State Department's Flickr page. This wouldn't normally be a problem, except that the people of Spain have never seen any pictures of the prime minister's daughters before.
Spanish Goths/Punks approve of the picture because, well, let's say the girls appear to shop at Hot Topic. (Asunto Caliente?)
Spanish media was conflicted over the photo, many of them published it on the front page; however the state-owned news agency, EFE, did not run the photo. EFE said, "They should not have their personal rights prejudiced by the prime minister's decision to take them to New York."
The prime minister's office was trying to get all of the photos down, claiming he tries to keep his children out of the public eye. A noble cause, it seems there should be some middle ground between the Spanish case and this.
Photo via Gawker.
Officials from the International Olympic Committee have narrowed the list of sports they're considering adding to the 2016 Summer Games:
The board will submit golf and rugby sevens -- a faster-paced version of the standard 15-a-side game -- for ratification by the full 106-member IOC assembly in Copenhagen in October.
Among the rejected sports were baseball, softball, squash, karate and something called "roller sports."
Whatever the outcome of the IOC's final vote, one thing is clear: Hugo Chavez ain't gonna be too pleased about this one.
Although Britain's expenses scandal hurt politicians on both sides of the aisle, the Labour Party did bear the brunt of the blow, with several cabinet ministers resigning in the aftermath. The opposite may happen in Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel's health minister is under fire after her official car was stolen, but, fortunately for Merkel, the health minister is from the opposition.
The German health minister, Ulla Schmidt, has been criticised after her official car was stolen in Spain, where she was using it during her vacation.
The 90,000 euro (£78,000) Mercedes S-class was stolen in Alicante.
Mrs. Schmidt flew there at her own expense. Her chauffeur drove 2,400km (1,500 miles) to meet her so she could carry out some official business.
But opposition politicians want to know why she needed her car in Spain, when embassy vehicles are available.
Schmidt has filled the role of Health Minister since 2005, when Merkel's Christian Democrats formed a grand coalition with the opposition Social Democrats. Schmidt's scandal comes at a particularly poor time for her party, as Merkel's party has increased its lead in the polls to 12 points only two months before a new round of elections.
Also, German ministers get a Mercedes S-class for official business? Snazzy.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
It's another great moment in advertising history: Burger King bringing together a Whopper and a Hindu goddess.
Burger King has been forced to apologise to Hindus after it showed a revered Indian goddess with a 'forbidden' Whopper burger.
The fast food chain quickly withdrew the advertisement from its stores in Spain after Hindus across the world complained at the denigration of their religion.
The advertisement shows a picture of Lakshmi, the Indian goddess of wealth, above one of the burgers, which are forbidden under Hindu religion[...]
The goddess and the burger were placed under a slogan claiming 'La merienda es sagrada' – the snack is sacred.
Though the main complaint is of course the implication that Lakshmi enjoys cow, it turns out the entire meal does not agree with the rules of strict Hindus:
It includes an all-beef patty, a beef chilli-con-carne slice, egg-based Cajun mayonnaise, all forbidden by strict Hindus. Some devotees would even be offended by the inclusion of onions which they believe inflame passions."
Not to mention the fearsome power of onion breath.
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It's the biggest international sports story of the summer: the £80 million ($131 million) transfer of Portuguese soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo from English club Manchester United to Spanish club Real Madrid. The amount is even more amazing given that Real broke a transfer record they set just last week: £56 million for AC Milan's Brazillian star Kaká.
And yet, as the financial crisis deepens, football clubs throughout the world are struggling with debt. Top leagues in Spain, England, and Italy all have teams collectively owing billions. Famous clubs like Liverpool and Valencia have had to delay stadium expansion, restrict new player acquistions, and (in the worst cases, like Valencia) even sell most of their stars.
But even though Real Madrid probably has the most debt of any club in Spain (almost €500 million (corrected), even before this summer's spree), they have been able to spend with abandon while the economic crisis cripples their rivals. Some of these reasons are legitimate: Real has the biggest fan base in Spain and one of the two or three biggest in the world, along with an excellent television contract (in Spain, contracts are negotiated on a team-by-team basis, not collectively as in most other leagues in Europe and in US sports). As a result, they consistently have among the highest revenues in the world. But, unlike almost every other club, Real has a trump card:
Finally, there's Real's status as, effectively, a non-profit social trust. This means they do not need to generate £30 million a year just to service their debt (like United).
Whatever debt they hold (and detail here is murky) is with local banks, many of whom are under political and social pressure not to tighten the screws. Real are too big and too important to fail or to come under the kind of debt pressures that affect traditional clubs. The club's social, political and economic significance dwarfs that of any other club in the world, with the possible exception of Barcelona. In that sense, they play by a different set of rules.
In other words, unlike almost any other operation in the world (with the possible exceptions of their rival Barcelona and the United States government), Real can keep on spending almost forever, knowing that their debts will never be called in. It really does give a whole new meaning to "too big to fail."
Alex Livesey/Getty Image
Scott Horton reports that Spanish prosecutors will indict high-ranking members of the Bush administration over allegations of detainee abuse and torture.
The six are: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; former head of the Office of Legal Counsel Jay Bybee; former OLC lawyer John Yoo; former Defense Department lawyer William J. Haynes II; David Addington, a former adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; and former Undersecretary of Defense Doug Feith.
Horton explains the context of the case:
The case arises in the context of a pending proceeding before the court involving terrorism charges against five Spaniards formerly held at Guantánamo. A group of human-rights lawyers originally filed a criminal complaint asking the court to look at the possibility of charges against the six American lawyers. Baltasar Garzón Real, the investigating judge, accepted the complaint and referred it to Spanish prosecutors for a view as to whether they would accept the case and press it forward. [They found sufficient evidence.]
The case won't come before Judge Real, though; he also was involved in a terrorism case against the five Spaniards held in Guantanamo.
What does it all mean?
Well, John Yoo won't be vacationing on the Costa del Sol this summer. Were any of the Bush Six to step foot in Spain, they would be arrested.
More importantly: Spain has said that it would drop the cases if the United States would investigate the claim. Thus far, the U.S. Department of Justice and the White House haven't responded. But the indictment may force the administration's hand, spurring a response to the allegations.
For, ultimately, the issue may have more political potency than judicial importance. It's up to U.S. President Barack Obama to dictate whether and how the strong allegations of legal abuses in the Bush administration will be resolved.