BRUSSELS: Officials from world football federation FIFA and European governing body UEFA underwent hostile criticism over the game’s attitude to tax evasion at a public hearing of a European Union committee of inquiry into money-laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion.
Barcelona’s Lionel Messi and his father have been convicted of defrauding Spain of €4.1m in tax and hiding the money in shell companies in Belize and Uruguay. Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo, also named during the hearing, is currently contesting charges of having evaded €14.7m.
Jeppe Kofod, a German co-rapporteur of the PANA committee, criticised what he considered the lax attitude of  Barcelona over Messi’s conviction. He pointed up the club’s subsquent social media campaign, #WeAreAllLeoMessi.
Kofod challenged both Kimberly Morris, head of global transfers and compliance at FIFA and Julien Zylberstein, legal counsel at UEFA, over the bodies’ response to the issue. He said: “You are for fair play, shouldn’t you also be for fair taxes?”
Morris responded that the matter “was more the purview of tax authorities.”

Zylberstein said: “We believe tax evasion is a clear threat to the social values of football and to the regulatory framework and to the integrity of the broader game. Having said that, it’s up to the regulatory authorities”.

PANA committee chairman, Werner Langer, described the answers as “not completely satisfactory.”

He echoed the feelings expressed by many MEPs, including Belgian Louis Michel, who accused the officials of “a magnificent example of double talk” and condemned their reluctance to criticise players convicted of tax evasion.

Another panellist, Merijn Rengers, a journalist with NRC Handelsblad — part of the media consortium which published the findings of financial wrongdoing in the world of soccer — said the desire to evade tax was “epidemic” in the industry and the attitude embraced the biggest clubs, players and agents.

He said: “Everybody is using tax advisers to evade tax.”

One MEP asking whether it was possible that the regulatory bodies had become as corrupt as the industry?

Zylberstein replied that the body had passed a series of modernising reforms in 2017, which included term limits for the UEFA president.