Barcelona, July 6: Argentina former football star Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in prison by a Spanish court over charges of tax fraud. The footballer and his father Jorge Messi were found guilty of three counts of tax fraud for defrauding Spain of 4.1 million Euros (Rs. 30 crore 60 lakhs approx.) between 2007 and 2009.
The long-running case relates to a scheme to avoid paying £3.4m of tax on Messi's image rights. The 29 year old athlete is accused of creating a string of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid taxation on image rights.
The Barcelona forward was also fined 2 million Euros (Rs. 14 crore 90 lakhs aprrox.) by the Court While his father was fined of 1.5 Million Euros (11 crores 20 lakhs approx.) However, neither of the two accused is likely to go to jail as under Spanish system, prison terms less than two years can be suspended.
Messi, who took time out from Argentina’s preparations for the Copa America tournament this summer, said in court last month: “I was playing football; I had no idea about anything. I trusted my dad and my lawyers. The pair can appeal their sentences through the Supreme Court.
During the trial, Messi said he never suspected any wrongdoing when his father would ask him to sign contracts or documents relating to his image rights, a lucrative source of income for any athlete of his calibre. 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 is among the world’s highest-earning athletes. His reported weekly earnings are £336,000 and net worth is £270 million. During the trial, prosecutors said tax havens in Belize and Uruguay were used to conceal huge earnings from his lucrative image rights. 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.