Spain’s Supreme Court Upholds Lionel Messi’s 21-Month Jail Sentence For Tax Fraud
Lionel Messi and Father’s Appeal Denied, but Unlikely to Serve Jail Time Under Spanish Law
The 29-year-old Argentine soccer star and his father Jorge — who manages his finances — were both convicted by a Barcelona court in July 2016 for evading €4.1m (£3.5m; $4.6m) in taxes on Messi’s image rights from 2007 to 2009.
Per MailOnline’s Pete South, Messi and his father were also fined €2 million ($2.24 million) and €1.5 million ($1.68 million) respectively.
Jorge Messi’s sentence was reduced from 21 months to 15 by the Supreme Court to account for the income he had since handed to tax authorities.
Both him and his son probably won’t spend any time in jail, however, given Spanish laws dictating that prison terms of less than two years (for non-violent offenses) can be served under probation.
South explained that it is common under Spanish law for defendants without prior convictions to avoid prison time for such crimes.
Messi and his father were found guilty of three counts of fraud for using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay — as well as shell companies in the U.K. and Switzerland — between 2007 and 2009.
The pair were charged with employing fake companies to avoid paying Spanish taxes on income that derived from companies paying for the use of the Argentine striker’s image rights.
News of the investigation initially surfaced in 2013, when Jorge reportedly paid more than €5 million ($5.6 million) in arrears and extra charges. Messi’s father also allegedly paid €10 million ($11.2 million) in taxes due on the player’s image rights income from 2010 to 2011.
These transactions are reportedly the reason for Jorge’s sentence being reduced by six months.
Messi, a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, repeatedly denied any wrongdoing during his trial in June 2016.
“I was dedicated to playing soccer,” he said. “I trusted my father and the lawyers that we had chosen to deal with our affairs. At no time did I think that they could deceive me.”
Messi admitted during last year’s trial that he signed many of his income and tax-related documents when he was younger without reading their full contents. The Argentine also stated he visited a notary to establish a company to mange his finances without understanding the specifics of the situation.
However, Mario Maza — the state attorney representing the tax authorities throughout the trial, explained he found it improbable that Messi did not comprehend what was going on.
“It could be that they are inexperienced with tax matters and the law and are not able to set up their own companies, but they are able to understand what paying your taxes means,” Maza said.
Messi, who was the leading scorer in La Liga this season with 27 goals, is negotiating a contract renewal with Barcelona. His current deal will expire at the end of next season.
According to ESPN FC, the Catalan club said they were optimistic the Argentine forward would sign an extension. Spanish radio reported Tuesday that a new contract will be signed at the start of next season so that the money is utilized as part of the following year’s budget.
MADRID, SPAIN – APRIL 23: Lionel Messi of Barcelona celebrates as he scores their third goal during the La Liga match between Real Madrid CF and FC Barcelona at Estadio Bernabeu on April 23, 2017 in Madrid, Spain. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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