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Messi fends off money-laundering claims

BARCELONA, Dec 20, (AFP): Barcelona star Lionel Messi defended himself, his family and fellow players on Friday against press reports linking charity football matches he played in to alleged laundering of Colombian drug money. In his first personal reaction to the allegations that emerged on Monday, the striker insisted the benefit matches were “100 percent charitable”. “I deeply regret what is being said not only about me but about people I love such as my dad and players who are my friends,” the Argentine international told Spanish radio station Rac1. Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported on Monday that the player’s father Jorge Messi is suspected of being involved in an operation to launder Colombian drug money through charity football matches featuring Messi and some of his Barcelona teammates.

“What we do in those matches is 100 percent charitable,” Lionel Messi said in the radio interview. Spain’s police and the Interior Ministry say a Colombian promoter is suspected of laundering drug money through concerts and sporting events in Spain, South America and the United States. But they say there is no evidence of wrongdoing by Messi, his family or other players who featured in matches organised by the Colombian promoter at the centre of the affair. Barcelona’s president Sandro Rosell on Thursday branded the reports an “attack” on Messi’s family. Messi was speaking from Argentina where he is recovering from a hamstring injury that is sidelining him from the Barca squad until the new year. “I am focussing mentally on my recovery and I am not thinking about anything else, other than getting back to the highest level of fitness possible,” he said.

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