Football

Messi sentenced to 21 months for tax fraud

Messi and his father sentenced to 21 months in prison for tax fraud but are unlikely to serve time

Argentina and Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi and his father Jorge Horacio have been sentenced to 21 months in prison for tax fraud by a Catalan court, according to Spanish media sources.

But, under Spanish law, sentences under two years are usually suspended and neither is likely to serve any time in prison.

The long-running case relates to a scheme to avoid paying £3.4 million ($6m) of tax on Lionel Messi's image rights.

The disputed tax payments date back to a period from 2007 to 2009, a time when Messi helped to transform Barca into the world's best team.

APPEAL

He has now, however, been fined £1.7m for three counts of tax fraud while his father has been given a £1.3m fine, although both men can appeal against these sentences at the supreme court.

Messi has always denied any knowledge of his tax affairs, saying he concentrated on football, while his father has claimed he left it all up to financial advisers.

The four-day hearing actually concluded in Barcelona on June 3, shortly before Messi left to join Argentina's squad for the Copa America Centenario.

The 29-year-old attacker joined the Barcelona's famed La Masia academy in 2000, aged 13, and his family joined him in Spain soon after.

He made his competitive debut in 2004, at 17, and has now scored 453 goals in 531 appearances, winning five Ballon d'Or trophies for the world's best player along the way.

He has won eight league titles and four Champions League winners' medals with Barca.

Messi is also Argentina's leading scorer but has found success on the international stage harder to come by, losing in four major finals, including last month's Copa America.

Immediately after that defeat, he announced his retirement from international football.

Messi is not the only Barcelona star to come under scrutiny for his tax affairs - teammate Neymar was also recently fined almost £40m by a Brazilian court for evading tax on his sponsorship deals.

Like Messi, he also denies any wrongdoing and is appealing against that ruling.

Meanwhile, Gerardo Martino has resigned as Argentina boss in the wake of the nation's latest Copa America setback and the retirement of star striker Messi.

The 53-year-old former Barcelona head coach, who is also known as "Tata", led Argentina to the final of last month's Copa America tournament in the United States, but the Albiceleste lost to Chile on penalties.

RESIGNATIONS

A statement published on the Argentine Football Association's official website yesterday said: "The coaching staff of the national team have tendered their resignations today."

Martino succeeded Alejandro Sabella soon after Argentina lost to Germany in the 2014 World Cup final, and won 19 of his 29 matches.

Last month's near miss against Chile in the Copa America final saw history repeat itself as Martino's men had also lost to Chile in the 2015 edition of the tournament. - PA Sport.

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