Supreme Court confirms Messi fraud sentence

Lionel Messi (Getty)
Lionel Messi (Getty)

Madrid - Spain's Supreme Court on Wednesday confirmed a 21-month jail sentence and €2.09 million ($2.25 million) fine imposed on Lionel Messi for tax fraud, months after the Barcelona football star lodged an appeal.

The Argentina international and his father Jorge Horacio Messi were in July 2016 found guilty of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on €4.16 million of Messi's income earned from his image rights from 2007-09.

The income related to Messi's image rights that was hidden includes endorsement deals with Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.

Both Messi, 29, and his father were given 21 months in jail -- prison terms likely to be suspended as is common in Spain for first offences for non-violent crimes carrying a sentence of less than two years.

They appealed to the Supreme Court, which confirmed the sentence for the five-time world player of the year on Wednesday.

However, it also reduced the term to 15 months jail for his father, taking into account that his football star son had paid back the defrauded money to tax authorities.

The player and his father made a voluntary payment of €5.0 million -- equal to the amount of the alleged unpaid taxes plus interest -- in August 2013 after being formally investigated.

During last year's trial, Messi had argued that he trusted his father with his finances and "knew nothing" about how his wealth was managed.

Prosecutors had asked for Messi to be absolved, arguing there was no evidence that the player was aware of how his income was managed.

But the Supreme Court said Wednesday that he would have known about his obligation to pay taxes.

"It defies logic to concede that someone who earns a large income does not know that he must pay taxes on it," the court wrote in its sentence.

In its July sentence, the Barcelona court that initially found Messi guilty had argued that if the wealthy player was not punished, "ordinary" citizens could conclude that it was better to "not show interest" in their tax obligations.

Messi's tax fraud trial had taken place against a backdrop of simmering voter anger over steep cuts to health and social spending, as the government struggles to bring Spain's public deficit down.

Messi is far from the only Barca star to find himself embroiled in problems with the Spanish authorities.

Brazil star and Barcelona forward Neymar and his parents are due to stand trial for alleged corruption over his transfer from Santos in 2013.

Barca's Argentine defender Javier Mascherano also agreed a one-year suspended sentence with authorities for tax fraud last year.

And former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell was arrested on Tuesday in a money laundering investigation related to the sale of the Brazilian national football team's television rights.

Businessman Rosell, 53, had been manager of sporting goods giants Nike in Brazil before taking over as president of Barcelona in 2010.

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