Barcelona's Messi gets 21 months for tax fraud, unlikely to serve time

Wed Jul 6, 2016 8:49am EDT
 
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By Emma Pinedo and Angus Berwick

MADRID (Reuters) - Barcelona's Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi was sentenced on Wednesday to 21 months in prison and fined 2 million euros ($2.2 million) after being found guilty of three counts of tax fraud, although it is unlikely he will serve time.

The Barcelona court handed the same sentence to the player's father, Jorge, with a 1.5 million euro fine. Both defendants have around five days to appeal to the supreme court, the Barcelona court said in its statement.

Spanish law is such that any sentence under two years for a non-violent crime rarely requires a defendant without previous convictions to serve jail time. A spokeswoman for the court confirmed Messi was unlikely to be imprisoned.

Messi, 29, and his father defrauded the Spanish tax office of almost 4.2 million euros between 2007 and 2009 by using a web of shell companies to evade taxes on income from the player's image rights, the court said in a written ruling.

The companies - with names such as Sport Consultants and Sport Enterprises - were based in tax havens such as Belize, Uruguay and Switzerland where legislation kept the identities of their owners secret, according to the ruling.

Messi, five-times World Player of the Year, admitted during the trial to signing contracts protecting his image rights but said he had no knowledge he was partaking in any wrongdoing or defrauding the Spanish state.

He said his father had control over his financial affairs, but the court said on Wednesday that this was not enough to avoid charges.

"(His) avoidable ignorance, which was derived from indifference, is not an error, and it does not remove responsibility," the presiding judge, Mercedes Armas Galve, wrote in the statement.   Continued...

 
Barcelona's Argentine soccer player Lionel Messi (L) sits in court with his father Jorge Horacio Messi during their  trial for tax fraud in Barcelona, Spain, June 2, 2016. REUTERS/Alberto Estevez