Football

Spain's Supreme Court confirms Messi's sentence for tax fraud

But 21-month jail sentence set 
to be suspended for first-time offenders of non-violent crimes

Spain's Supreme Court yesterday confirmed a 21-month jail sentence and 2.09-million-euro (S$3.26m) fine imposed on Lionel Messi for tax fraud, months after the Barcelona football star lodged an appeal.

Last July, the Argentina international and his father Jorge Horacio Messi were found guilty of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16m euros of Messi's income earned from his image rights from 2007-09.

The income related to Messi's image rights that 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 also reduced the term to 15 months' jail for his father, taking into account that his football star son had paid back the defrauded money to tax authorities.

The player and his father made a voluntary payment of 5m euros - 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.

Prosecutors had asked for Messi to be absolved, arguing there was no evidence that the player was aware of how his income was managed.

But the Supreme Court said yesterday that he would have known about his obligation to pay taxes.

"It defies logic to concede that someone who earns a large income does not know that he must pay taxes on it," the court wrote in its sentence.

In its July sentence, the Barcelona court which initially found Messi guilty had argued that if the wealthy player was not punished, "ordinary" citizens could conclude that it was better to "not show interest" in their tax obligations. - AFP

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