Supreme Court upholds Messi’s fraud sentence

Argentina’s Lionel Messi looks on during the match

Spains Supreme Court yesterday confirmed a 21-month jail sentence and ß2.09-million (R30.3-million) fine imposed on Lionel Messi for tax fraud, months after the Barcelona football star lodged an appeal.

The prison term is likely to be suspended.

The Argentina international and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, were found guilty in July last year of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on ß4.16-million (R60.3-million) Messi earned from his image rights from 2007-09.

The income related to Messi’s image rights which was hidden includes endorsement deals with Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.

Both Messi, 29, and his father were given 21 months in jail – prison terms likely to be suspended, as is common in Spain for first offences for non-violent crimes carrying a sentence of less than two years.

They appealed to the Supreme Court, which confirmed the sentence for the five-time world player of the year yesterday.

However, it reduced the term to 15 months in jail for Jorge, taking into account that his son had paid back the defrauded money to tax authorities.

The player and his father made a voluntary payment of ß5-million (R72.4-million) – equal to the amount of the alleged unpaid taxes plus interest – in August 2013 after being formally investigated.

During last year’s trial, Messi had argued that he trusted his father with his finances and knew nothing about how his wealth was managed. But the Supreme Court said yesterday: “It defies logic to concede that someone who earns a large income does not know that he must pay taxes on it.”

Messi’s tax fraud trial had taken place against a backdrop of simmering voter anger over steep cuts to health and social spending, as the government struggles to bring Spain’s public deficit down.

Messi is far from the only Barca star to find himself embroiled in problems with the Spanish authorities.

Brazil star and Barcelona forward Neymar and his parents are due to stand trial for alleged corruption over his transfer from Santos in 2013.

Barca’s Argentine defender, Javier Mascherano, agreed to a one-year suspended sentence for tax fraud last year.

And former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell, 53, was arrested on Tuesday in a money-laundering investigation related to the sale of the Brazilian national football team’s television rights.

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