Lionel Messi Jail: Soccer Player Sentenced In Tax Fraud, Why He Won’t Serve Time

Lionel Messi
Barcelona's football star Lionel Messi (L) and his father Jorge Horacio Messi listen as they face judges in a tax fraud case at the courthouse on June 2, 2016 in Barcelona. ALBERTO ESTEVEZ/AFP/Getty Images

A Barcelona court has found soccer star Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, each guilty of three counts of defrauding tax authorities of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million) . They have been sentenced to 21 months in jail after using offshore companies to avoid paying Spanish taxes on advertising contracts.

Nevertheless, neither of them is likely to serve any jail time because under Spanish law, a tax prison sentence under two years can be served under probation. The court has also ordered Messi to pay a fine of 2 million euros ($2.2 million), while his father has to pay 1.5 million euros.

The case against the Barcelona forward and his dad dates to 2013, when a state prosecutor opened an investigation into whether they had defrauded the state of 4.1 million euros. This investigation focused on the player’s tax returns filed between 2007 and 2009. When news of the investigation first broke, both Messis paid over 5 million euros in arrears and extra charges. They are also believed to have paid 10 million euros in taxes due on the image-rights income for 2010 and 2011.

Prosecutors maintained that the soccer player and his father used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay as well as companies in the U.K. and Switzerland to reduce the athlete’s income from image rights. Messi’s father said he was told by a legal adviser that the practice was legal, while Leo Messi admitted in court last month that he signed many documents without reading their contents and that he visited a notary’s office to go through with setting up a company to handle his finances.

Meanwhile, Barcelona issued a statement on Wednesday in support of their star, saying that they feel Messi is not criminally responsible for the tax fraud.

"FC Barcelona gives all its support to Leo Messi and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today," the statement read. "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. 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 sentence can be appealed and it is presumed both Messi and his father will do so.

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Maria G. Valdez

Maria was born and raised in Dominican Republic, where she began her career in journalism covering human interest stories, entertainment, beauty and wellness for a national magazine. She moved to New York City to study Musical Theatre, but went back to journalism after graduating in an attempt of becoming the Latina Carrie Bradshaw. She has an unhealthy obsession with JLo and claims to be Sofia Vergara’s long-lost daughter, and has tried a crazy amount of treatments to keep looking young. She became a Zumba instructor for fun.