Barcelona star Lionel Messi gets 21 months for tax fraud

It's been a bad few weeks for Lionel Messi whose national team lost in the final of the Copa America to Chile. (Adam Hunger, Reuters/USA Today Sports TPX)

It's been a bad few weeks for Lionel Messi whose national team lost in the final of the Copa America to Chile. (Adam Hunger, Reuters/USA Today Sports TPX)

Barcelona’s Argentinian football star Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined $2.2-million after being found guilty on three counts of tax fraud, a court in the Spanish city said on Wednesday.

The court handed the same jail sentence to Messi’s father, Jorge, and fined him €1.5-million. In Spain, however, it is customary for those sentenced to under two years for non-violent crimes not to serve time in jail.

Messi, 29, and his father were accused by the Spanish tax office of defrauding the government of $4.7-million in tax between 2007 and 2009.

The court found that they had used a web of shell companies to evade taxes on income from the player’s image rights.

Messi, five-time World Player of the Year, said during the trial that he had no knowledge of the dealings and that his father had control over his financial affairs. But the court said this was not enough for him to avoid charges.

The defendants can appeal to the supreme court, the Barcelona local court said in its statement.

Messi and his father had already paid €5-million to the tax authorities as a “corrective” measure after formal investigations were opened.

The footballer is 10th on Forbes magazine’s list of the world’s highest-earning athletes over the past decade, with an estimated income of $350-million during this period.

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