Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi and his father Jorge have lost their appeal to Spain’s Supreme Court against a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud.
The 29-year-old, five-times world player of the year, was found guilty by a Barcelona court last July on three counts of tax fraud between 2007 and 2009, resulting in a suspended 21-month prison sentence and fine of €2million (£1.75m).
Messi’s father Jorge was given the same sentence and ordered to pay a fine of €1.5m (£1.3m).
Spanish law is such that any sentence under two years for a non-violent crime rarely requires a defendant without previous convictions to serve jail time.
Messi, 29, and his father defrauded the Spanish tax office of almost €4.2m (£3.6m) from 2007-09 by using a web of shell companies to avoid taxes on income from the player’s image rights.
Tax inspectors testified during the case that they found evidence that Messi’s father used companies in countries such as Uruguay, Switzerland and Belize to reduce tax on the player’s income from image rights.
Messi’s father said he was told by a legal adviser that the practice was legal.
Barcelona issued a statement to ‘give all its support to Leo Messi and his father.’
During court proceedings, Messi insisted he had little knowledge of his financial affairs.
‘I was dedicated to playing soccer,’ Messi said.
‘I trusted my father and the lawyers that we had chosen to deal with our affairs. At no time did I think that they could deceive me.’
The Supreme Court did rule that Jorge Messi’s sentence be reduced from 21 months to 15 months after he paid back some of the money he owed.
Messi finished the Spanish league season as the top scorer with 37 goals but couldn’t help Barcelona beat Real Madrid in the title race.
Madrid won the title by three points and next take on Juventus in the Champions League final in Cardiff later this month.