Argentina and Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi has been found guilty of tax fraud along with his father and each sentenced to 21 months in prison.
Messi and his father Jorge Horacio are unlikely to serve any jail time. Under Spanish law they can serve their sentences under probation.
The Daily Express reports:
The £256,000-a-week star was also fined £1.7 million – six seeks’ wages – by a court in Barcelona.
Superstar Messi, considered the world’s best player, was tried alongside his father Jorge after defrauding Spain’s tax authority of 4.1m euros (£3.19m) from 2007-09.
During the trial, prosecutors said tax havens in Belize and Uruguay were used to conceal huge earnings from his lucrative image rights.
Messi, 29, said he “knew nothing” about his financial affairs because he was busy “playing football”, adding that he signed documents without reading them.
He told the court last month: “The truth is no, the truth is no, I didn’t know.
“As my dad explained earlier I just dedicated myself to playing football, I put my trust in my father, in the lawyers who had decided to manage this thing.”
Jorge Messi claimed he did not have enough knowledge to orchestrate such a fraud, blaming his tax consultants instead.
But a judge disagreed and found both men complicit in the crime, which concerned Messi’s image rights with companies including Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Danone, Procter and Gamble, Banco Sabadell and the Kuwait Food Company.
Government prosecutor Mario Maza told the court the pair could not prove their innocence and were not able to show that the player did not have at least some knowledge of the corporate structures created to lower his tax burden in Spain.
Asking for jail sentences of 22 months for both men, he noted that in particular the player “knew more than he made it appear in court”, adding that both father and son had “showed no credibility” as witnesses.
But despite being handed the prison sentence it is unlikely either of them will serve any time behind bars, because the punishment is set to be suspended.
Messi given 21 months in jail for tax fraud, but won’t actually go to prison. Tax frauds the world over will be looking to move to Spain.
— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) July 6, 2016
Lionel Messi is so good he can even avoid prison … #UnbelievableJeff
— Michael Vaughan (@MichaelVaughan) July 6, 2016
Suspended sentence for Messi!!! Thanks guys. I’m going to get audited in Spain!!
— Ryan Fitzgerald (@FitzySA) July 6, 2016
Leave Messi alone. Let him be great.
— Ethan White (@EthanWhite15) July 6, 2016
A jail term of under two years in duration usually results in a period of probation under Spanish law, meaning the fleet-footed attacker will only spend time inside if he commits another crime during the next two years.
Messi has also already made a voluntary payment of £3.8m – back in August 2013 – to cover unpaid tax and interest. The pair could now appeal their sentences in the Spanish supreme court.
The news immediately sparked a flurry of memes on social media predicting the reaction of Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo – a long-time rival of Messi for the tag of world’s greatest player.
And sports journalist Tancredi Palmeri sardonically noticed that Messi’s sentence marked “another thing in common” between him and Argentina great Maradonna, to whom he is so often compared.
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