Madrid: Barcelona's Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in prison and fined 2 million euros ($2.2 million) after being found guilty of three counts of tax fraud, a court in the Spanish city said on Wednesday.
The court handed the same jail sentence to the Argentine soccer player's father, Jorge, and fined him 1.5 million euros. However, in Spain it is customary that those sentenced to under two years for non-violent crimes do not serve time in jail. Messi, 29, and his father were accused by the Spanish tax office of defrauding the government of 4.2 million euros ($4.7 million) in tax between 2007 and 2009.
The court found that they had used a web of shell companies to evade taxes on income from the player's image rights. Messi, five-times World Player of the Year, said during the trial that he had no knowledge of the dealings and that his father had control over his financial affairs. But the court said this was not enough for him to avoid charges. The defendants can appeal to the supreme court, the Barcelona local court said in its statement. Messi and his father had already paid 5 million euros to the tax authorities as a "corrective" measure after formal investigations were opened.
The footballer is 10th on Forbes Magazine's list of the world's highest-earning athletes over the past decade, with an estimated income of $350 million during this period.