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March 21, 2019

Did Zurab Pololikashvi know? UNWTO Ambassador and football star Lionel Messi convicted of tax evasion

The new UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvi loves football. Worldtourismwire yesterday reported about the appointment of Spanish football star Lionel Messi as a UNWTO Ambassador for Responsible Tourism by UNWTO Secretary-General Zurab Pololikashvili after a football match between FC Barcelona and Leganés.

On Saturday the UNWTO Secretary General of the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and FC Barcelona signed an agreement, opening the path to collaboration between the two organizations in the areas of tourism and sports.

In 2011-2011, UNWTO Secretary-General Pololikashvili was the General Manager of FC Dinamo de Tbilisi, viewed as the most outstanding professional football team in Georgia.

Tourism is directly related to international security, communication, and interaction between people. Tourism must have a seat at the global table, and the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) is the platform for that within the United Nations.

Exactly a year ago on April 9, eTN asked in an article: How can the leader of this UNWTO platform be elected by a group of country representatives that care more about getting tickets for a popular football game, are following the orders of their foreign minister, and perhaps therefore are not interested in a discussion and exchange, before voting someone into the highest UN official in the travel and tourism industry?

A year later Lionel Messi is officially part of an exclusive UNWTO club of ambassadors, but there is a dark history this star has been trying to cover up.

Considered by many the best football player of all times, Lionel Messi joined the World Tourism Organization to promote the value of responsible tourism. The same man now promoting responsible tourism has been less than responsible when it comes to paying taxes in his home country in Spain.

Spain’s Supreme Court in May of 2017 rejected an appeal by the same Barcelona football star Lionel Messi and stood by a Catalan regional court’s 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud, as reported by REUTERS on May 24, 2017.

Messi and his father Jorge, who managed Messi’s finances, were both convicted in 2016 of defrauding Spain of €4.1m (£3.5m; $4.6m) in taxes.

Jorge Messi’s jail term was reduced because he paid some of the taxes. In Spain, prison terms of under two years can be served under probation.

Lionel Messi, a five-time world footballer of the year, has denied any involvement and told his trial in June 2016: “I only worried about playing football.”

But in its decision, the court said: “It defies logic to concede that someone who earns a large income does not know that he must pay taxes on it.”

Both men were originally convicted of three counts of fraud, for using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay between 2007 and 2009, and were also given heavy fines.

They were found guilty of resorting to fictitious companies to evade Spanish taxes on income from companies using Lionel Messi’s image rights.

Jorge Messi’s jail term was reduced from 21 months to 15 by the Supreme Court to take into account the money he had since handed to the tax authorities.

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