Argentina’s legendary footballer Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for tax fraud, Spanish media reports.
A court in Barcelona found him guilty of three counts of tax fraud, a statement from the court said on Wednesday.
The court also sentenced the Argentine soccer player’s father, Jorge, to 21 months in prison for the same three crimes. The sentence can be appealed through the Spanish supreme court, the statement said.
However, under Spanish law a prison sentence under two years can be served under probation, meaning Messi and his father are unlikely to go to jail.
The court ordered Messi to pay a fine of around 2 million euros ($2.21 million) and his father to pay 1.5 million euros for the crimes.
Last year, Lionel Messi’s appeal against allegations of tax evasion was rejected by a city court and the striker would have to stand trial.
ALSO READ: Messi’s Tax Evasion Appeal Rejected By Court
The Argentine, who plays for Spanish club FC Barcelona, and his father are accused of tax frauds totalling 4.1 million euros ($4.63 m) between 2006 and 2009.
Messi is one of the world’s highest-paid sports star but along with his father, the diminutive Argentine were accused of using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on the footballer’s income earned through the sale of his image rights from 2007-09.
It is alleged that Jorge sold his son’s image rights using companies in countries like Belize and Uruguay to avoid Spanish tax obligations.
Messi had informed the court that he had signed documents without reading them because he trusted his father and the advisers responsible for managing his finances and he he never suspected of any wrongdoing when his father would ask him to sign contracts or documents.
His club Barcelona came out in his support just after the sentencing was read out in court and said: [espl_quote]”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.”
The court said in October 2014 that Messi would have to stand trial for the allegations, despite his saying he was not guilty or fully aware of what had happened.
[espl_quote]”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,” the club said in a statement.[/espl_quote]
Also under the scanner is Brazilian footballer Neymar Jr, currently playing forward for Barcelona.
ALSO READ: Neymar Jr Under Investigation For Tax Fraud
The charges arose from the player’s controversial trade from Brazilian team Santos to the Spanish club for an undisclosed sum, Brazilian weekly magazine Epoca reported.
On April 7, according to the magazine, federal prosecutors in the city of Santos ordered an audit of all assets owned by the footballer, one of the stars of Brazil’s national team, and his father Neymar Santos Silva, Xinhua news agency reported.