Lionel Messi, the Argentine footballer widely considered the best player in the world, has been sentenced to 21 months in jail for tax fraud by a provincial court in Barcelona, Spanish media has reported.
According to El País, Mr Messi, who plays professionally for Barcelona, and his father Jorge Horacio Messi were given identical sentences after being accused of hiding €4.1m from Spanish tax authorities through a complex web of companies set up in tax havens.
The paper said that judges normally suspend prison sentences that are less than two years when a suspect has no criminal record – though there are precedents to order immediate imprisonment.
The two Messis were charged with using companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid taxes on income earned through the sale of the footballer’s image rights between 2007-09. The income relates to contracts with Banco Sabadell, Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.
Although the trial focused on the activities of the elder Mr Messi, prosecutors alleged the Argentine striker knew enough about the arrangement to be charged. Mr Messi’s lawyers had argued he was ignorant of the complex financial dealings and was only focused on his on-pitch career.