MADRID: Lionel Messi headed off to lead Argentina’s bid to win the Copa America with the shadow of Spanish tax evasion case still hanging over him.

Messi and his father Jorge have denied defrauding the Spanish taxman of more than €4m between 2007 and 2009.

However the high court has ruled that the player should not be release from the case after his claim that he did not know what was happening with his finances.

The income related to Messi’s image rights, including contracts with Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter and Gamble, and the Kuwait Food Company.

The footballer and his father are suspected of avoiding paying Spanish tax by using companies in Belize and Uruguay to sell the rights to use Messi’s image.

The high court in Barcelona said on Wednesday that a decision over whether or not the accused was aware of the fraud scheme should be left for the court hearing.

Spanish media reported that Messi’s defence argued the player had “never devoted a minute of his life to reading, studying or analysing” the contracts.

Last year a similar ruling was made by a lower court when the prosecution sought to drop the charges against the striker.

Messi and his father made a voluntary €5m “corrective payment”, equal to the alleged unpaid tax plus interest, in August 2013.