For a guy who seems to have all the money he'll ever need, one wonders why Lionel Messi
ever got mixed up with Messi & Friends. In the summer of 2012 and
2013, Messi played a series of all-star games in Colombia, Mexico and United States. The second year was a fiasco, and Spanish Guardia Civil investigators are now looking into charges that the matches
were arranged by drug cartels to launder money.
A Spanish judge has moved the case from Madrid to Barcelona
, where Messi plays. The Spanish
investigation has been going on for almost two years as Messi and three then-Barcelona teammates -- Javier Mascherano
and Daniel Alves
-- reportedly were questioned. The Spanish daily El Mundo reported
in June that the DEA was investigating Leo Messi Foundation, Messi's charity arm run by his father Jorge
, for possible ties to a Mexican drug cartel. It believes the Los Valencia Cartel organized a tour of popular Mexican ranchero singer Vicente Fernandez
and Messi & Friends to launder money.
Games were played in Bogota, Colombia, Cancun, Mexico, and Miami in 2012 and Medellin, Colombia, Lima, Peru, and
Chicago in 2013. An event in Los Angeles two years was canceled
, and when the tour got to Chicago
many of Messi's friends had baled. To come up with enough players, promoters recruited 10 players from Northwestern. One of them, Matt Eliason
, scored on a bicycle kick
that was the highlight of the 9-6 game televised by ESPN.
In December 2013, Leo Messi Management released a
statement from Jorge Messi that the tour had been organized by an unnamed third party and his sole responsibility was to sure some of the proceeds went to charity. El Mundo reported that some of the
charities are still waiting for their money.
This is not the first time Messi has been in trouble with Spanish authorities. He and his father have been involved in a long-standing tax
case in which they have voluntarily paid taxes and penalties on income that had at first been accounted as from his image rights and hidden in tax havens in Belize and Uruguay. But in June, a Spanish
court rejected Messi's argument that he should not face tax fraud charges because he had no knowledge of what was going on, paving the way for prosecutors to go forward with three counts of tax fraud
against Messi and his father.
Messi isn't the first player who's had a run-in with tax authorities. On Barcelona alone, Mascherano was just charged with two counts of tax fraud, and
Brazilian teammate Neymar
faces tax fraud charges in both Spain and Brazil, where courts froze $47 million in assets
. Nor is Messi the first player whose overly ambitious father got him
But Jorge Messi had no business getting his son mixed up in the Messi & Friend tour. The last thing Leo needed after long seasons with
Barcelona was to play into the summer. His lack of rest was evident the last two summers as Argentina finished second at the 2014 World Cup and 2015 Copa America. Messi was a non-factor in both
One of the strongest arguments against the 2016 Copa Centenario is players
need a break. Let's hope Messi finally gets some good advice from his father and takes a rest next summer.