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Tax Fraud Case In Spain Lingers Against Barcelona Soccer Star


Even before the last few days, Lionel Messi was often called the greatest soccer player of his generation - maybe even the greatest ever. Messi plays for F.C. Barcelona in Spain's top league, and he's piling on. Messi just set two all-time scoring records. And yet he's making news for something else. Spain is charging Messi and his father with tax evasion. Lauren Frayer reports from Madrid.

LAUREN FRAYER, BYLINE: It was Messi's first goal of three last night - a hat trick in a game against a team from Cyprus.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Lionel Messi is going to claim that.

FRAYER: What Messi claimed was the record for career goals scored in the Champions League - Europe's top competition. And this just three days after breaking the all-time scoring record for Spain's La Liga, which held for nearly 60 years.


UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: But it's Messi for the record - 252.

FRAYER: Barcelona's coach, Luis Enrique, says he's never seen a player like Messi.


LUIS ENRIQUE: (Speaking Spanish).

FRAYER: He's beyond comparison - one of a kind. We'll never see another like him, he said. We're lucky to have him. And Barcelona - or Barca, as the team is known - will be lucky to keep him. Spain is prosecuting Messi and his father for alleged tax fraud. They paid a more than $6 million settlement, but prosecutors won't drop the case, though there's no trial date yet. In an interview last week with a newspaper in Argentina, his birthplace, Messi suggested he might be tempted to leave Spain. Soccer analyst Mark Elkington.

MARK ELKINGTON: He seems to sort of make some complaints that he was being singled out with this investigation into his tax dealings. There has been suggestions that maybe this was affecting his form. But he certainly seemed to quiet a lot of those critics with his superb hat trick. He's quite astonishing to watch.

FRAYER: They call him the little maestro or la pulga, the flea, as the diminutive Messi is lovingly nicknamed here. He's been with Barcelona his entire career, and Barca fans hope he stays. Messi is only 27 and may have many more records in him. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Frayer in Madrid. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.