(Bloomberg) Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi, the record five-time world player of the year, was handed a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud by a Spanish court that he’s unlikely to have to serve.
Messi will also have to pay about 2.1 million euros ($2.3 million) in fines for evading taxes between 2007 and 2009, according to an e-mailed statement Wednesday from the court in Barcelona that sentenced him. His father Jorge Messi was also handed a 21-month sentence and will have to pay about 1.6 million euros in fines.
Messi probably won’t to have to serve the sentence. Under Spanish law individuals don’t have to serve jail terms for two years or less if they don’t have a criminal record. Today’s decision can be appealed.
Messi, who last month resigned from the Argentine national team after losing the final of the Copa America to Chile on a penalty shoot-out, had in court alleged that he was not aware of the tax evasion because he only played soccer and left it to his father to manage his finances. In turn, Jorge Messi said he acted on advice given to him on the tax issues.
Messi had said in court that he didn’t know about decisions taken on the use of his image rights, the ruling said. “He only played soccer, the decisions taken were those of the lawyers and he never asked his father anything because he trusted him,” the ruling said, citing Messi’s arguments given in court.
Prosecutors filed a complaint against the Messis in 2013 that the 29-year-old player and his father evaded 4.2 million euros ($4.7 million) in taxes over three years on endorsement payments from Adidas AG, PepsiCo Inc., Procter & Gamble Co. and other companies.
The Messis have since paid 5 million euros, the amount prosecutors say they evaded, plus interest. According to prosecutors, Jorge Messi oversaw the use of companies in Belize, the U.K., Switzerland and Uruguay to divert money away from the Spanish tax authorities.
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