By Alex Baker
Lionel Messi’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad summer took another turn for the worse on Tuesday, when he was found guilty of tax fraud and sentenced to 21 months in prison. Thankfully, the Barcelona ace and his father Jorge, who was also found guilty, are not expected to see any actual jail time.
Messi, 29, was tried in the court of Catalonia where it was determined the Messis had evaded taxes related to the player’s image rights and owed upwards of €4M in back taxes. But because the sentence was less than two years and neither Messi nor his father have any previous criminal record, in accordance with Spanish law neither is likely to serve any time.
Instead, the two will both pay substantial fines — €1.7 for Messi for three counts of tax fraud, and €1.3M for his father.
According to arguments brought by the prosecution, Messi and his father maintained tax havens in Belize and Uruguay and shell companies in the UK and Switzerland to avoid paying taxes on earnings generated by image rights.
The taxes in question are related to image rights from the period between 2007 and 2009.
Messi for his part has denied any wrongdoing and has claimed to have little understanding or insight into how his financial affairs are managed.
While there will be no time served, the conviction is just the latest setback for Messi in a summer that has seen him announce his retirement from international football following Argentina’s disappointing loss to Chile in the final of the Copa America last month.
Earlier this year, Messi’s Barça teammate Javier Mascherano was sentenced to one year in prison for similar charges of tax evasion. However, the Argentine midfield enforcer had his sentence deferred for two years.
Barcelona’s Brazilian forward Neymar was also recently fined nearly €40M by a court in Brazil for failing to pay taxes on various sponsorship deals.
“FC Barcelona gives all its support to Leo Messi and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today.
The Club, in agreement with the Government prosecution service, considers that the player who has corrected his position with the Spanish Tax Office, is in no way criminally responsible with regards to the facts underlined in this case.
FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposal of Leo Messi and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defence of his honesty and his legal interests.”
Spanish law dictates that Messi and his father can still appeal the sentence in the Spanish supreme court, although it is not yet clear whether they plan to.