Press Release / July 31, 2014

Messi’s alleged tax evasion scheme relied on hiding the owners of UK and other companies

According to a Spanish prosecutor’s document, Lionel Messi’s alleged multi-million euro tax evasion scheme (1) relied upon hiding the names of the real owners of companies registered in the UK, Switzerland, Uruguay and Belize.

It has been widely reported that the prosecution alleges the scheme involved funneling money to tax havens using a complex web of shell companies (2).  What’s not so well known however is their allegation that the scheme also relied on keeping the names of the true owners of the companies involved hidden from public scrutiny.  The Spanish prosecutor states that the money was routed through UK and Swiss companies and then on to companies in the tax havens of Uruguay and Belize; he also states that all these countries were used because they allow opaque corporate structures(3,4).  Messi denies the allegations against him, saying that the deals were done by his former agent without his knowledge (5). 

“This shows why it’s so important for the names of the people who ultimately own and control companies to be made public,” said Rosie Sharpe, campaigner at Global Witness.  “There is legislation going through the UK parliament right now which, if passed, would make Britain the first country in the world to make company ownership fully transparent.  Tax evasion schemes involving British companies will be that bit harder to pull off once this law is in place.”

“Making company ownership transparent is also currently being debated in Brussels.  If Spain wants to make it easier to collect the taxes it is due, it should support making the true owners of European companies public,” said Sharpe.

The ownership of the companies allegedly used in this scheme was hidden by the use of:

  •  Nominees (used to hide the ownership of the Swiss company Lazario GmbH and the UK company Sidefloor Ltd).  Nominees are people or companies who are listed in official documents as the owners or directors of a company, but who in fact merely own or control the company on behalf of someone else through hidden arrangements. 
  • Having shareholders that are companies that are registered somewhere that keeps ownership details secret (used to hide the ownership of the UK company Sport Enterprises Ltd, which was 50% owned by a Uruguayan company).  Not only does Uruguay does not make any information about the owners or directors of its companies public, it does not even require all companies to keep any information as to who they are owned by. 

The proposed new UK law would overcome the problems of nominee shareholders and offshore corporate owners: if passed it will require British companies to have to reveal who is behind any nominees and other companies that own more than a quarter of the company.  Now other countries need to follow suit and adopt the new corporate transparency standard.  


Contact: Oliver Courtney, +44 (0)7912 517147, [email protected].

Notes to editors:

(1)   Lionel Messi and his father are accused of evading 4.2 million euros in tax on earnings from sponsors.  The detail of what he’s been accused of, as well as information on the companies named here can be found in the formal complaint filed by the prosecutor Raquel Amado, Al juzgado de instrucción en funciones de Guardia de Gavá. 

(2)   For example, see The GuardianThe Daily Mail, the BBC

(3)   Before 2006, the money was routed through:

  • a UK company called Sport Enterprises Ltd which was set up by the UK branch of a Gibraltar company service provider called Sovereign.  The ownership of the company was obscured: half of the shares were owned by a Uruguayan company called Goodshire SA. 
  • a Swiss company called Lazario GmbH.  The ownership of the company was obscured: it is owned by another Swiss company, whose declared activities consist of performing fiduciary duties; in other words, it is owned by a nominee.  

After 2006, money was routed through “equally opaque” companies:

  • a UK company called Sidefloor Ltd.  Sidefloor has a sole owner and director: Mr Ayomide Otubanjo, and a secretary provided by Jordan Cosec Ltd, a company service provider.  The Spanish prosecutor states that the ownership of this company “corresponds” to Bedford Nominees (UK) Ltd, which is owned by Jordans Trust Company Ltd which is owned by West of England Trust Ltd.  All of these are nominee service providers.  (Jordans is a company service provider that Global Witness revealed had set up UK companies used in an alleged Central Asian money laundering scheme) 
  • a Swiss company called Tubal Soccer Management GmbH
  • a Uruguay company called Jenbril SA

(4)   Alleged in the formal complaint filed by the prosecutor Raquel Amado, Al juzgado de instrucción en funciones de Guardia de Gavá 

(5)The Guardian