Messi given suspended 21-month sentence for tax evasion

Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has been given a suspended 21-month jail term for tax evasion along with his father, a Barcelona court ruled on Wednesday.World footballer of the year Messi and father Jorge, who manages his financial affairs, had been accused by the Spanish tax agency of having defrauded Spain of more than 4 million euros (4.5 million dollars) between 2007 and 2009.Authorities alleged the Messis set up tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to conceal earnings from image rights.Spanish prosecutors requested a 22-month jail term for the pair. However, suspended sentences are common in Spain for first offences carrying a sentence of less than two years.

The 29-year-old testified at the trial on June 2 before heading to the United States for the Copa America.

His Argentina team lost on penalties in the final to Chile last month and he announced his international retirement.

In 2014 the Messi family paid the tax agency 5 million euros as a "correction payment" in the hope of avoiding having to go to trial.

However, prosecutors were adamant the trial should go ahead, saying that Lionel was "the head of a criminal structure."

At the four-day trial which started on May 30, Jorge Messi took complete responsibility for his son's financial affairs, while Lionel said: "I had complete confidence in my father. I did not know what I was signing."

According to Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo, Barcelona directors are "extremely angry" at the verdict against their star player since they consider that he knew nothing at all about the alleged tax haven concealment scheme.

However, club president Josep Maria Bartomeu declined to say anything about the case Wednesday during the presentation to the media of Denis Suarez after he signed from Villarreal. 

The Messis now have the option of appealing against the verdict to the Supreme Court in Madrid.

Messi is not the first Barcelona player to have problems with the Spanish tax agency. Defender Javier Mascherano was given a one-year suspended sentence in January for tax evasion. 

Last update: Wed, 06/07/2016 - 15:04
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