A Spanish court has sentenced Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi to 21 months in jail and fined him almost $3 million dollars for tax fraud.
Despite the sentencing, Messi and his father, Jorge Horácio Messi, are unlikely to actually serve time in prison. Under Spanish law, any sentence under two years for a non-violent crime can be suspended, however, the pair will have to appeal their sentences through the supreme court.
The 29-year-old is accused of using a string of shell companies in Belize and Uruguay to shift money and evade taxation, defrauding the Spanish government of 4.16 million euros (about $A6.14 million) between 2007 and 2009.
Messi’s defence was that he was not aware he committed a crime or defrauded the Spanish nation but he did confess to signing contracts protecting his image rights. “I was playing football. I had no idea about anything,” he said. “I trusted my dad and my lawyers.”
“All I knew was that we signed agreements with certain sponsors, for ‘X’ amount of money and that I had to do adverts, photos and those things but about the money and where it went I knew nothing,” Messi said in June.
The court found Jorge Horacio Messi was in charge of his son’s finances, but Lionel Messi’s ignorance did not remove responsibility.
The Barcelona and former Argentinian forward is among the world’s highest earning athletes, a five-time FIFA Ballon d’Or World Player of the Year, and has overtaken Gabriel Batistuta as Argentina’s all time top goal-scorer. – Emma Kamil
Photo shows Lionel Messi at his best, on the field and earning millions. Photo from Claudio Pozo’s Flickr photostream.