Barcelona striker Messi sentenced to 21 months for tax fraud

Barcelona striker Messi sentenced to 21 months for tax fraud

Lionel Messi and his father Jorge have been found guilty of tax fraud by the Court of Catalonia reuters/Alberto Estevez/Pool/Files

Barcelona striker Lionel Messi and his father were sentenced Wednesday to 21 months in jail for tax fraud by a court in Spain where the taxman has set its sights on footballers.

The Court of Catalonia found the Argentina international and his father Jorge Horacio Messi guilty of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on €4.16 million of Messi’s income earned from his image rights from 2007-09.

But because the court’s sentence was less than two years and neither Messi has a criminal record, neither will be sent to prison.

The income related to Messi’s image rights that was allegedly hidden includes endorsement deals with Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble or the Kuwait Food Company.

Messi, 29, a five time FIFA World Player winner, was fined 2.09 million euros while his father was fined 1.6 million euros.

 The football player told the court during the four-day trial that wrapped up on June 4 that he trusted his father with his finances and “knew nothing” about how his wealth was managed.

The conviction is unlikely to hinder Messi’s football career, however, with the 29-year-old now free to attend Barcelona’s first day of pre-season training next week.

The news comes just nine days after Messi surprisingly announced his retirement from international football after missing a penalty in Argentina’s defeat to Chile in the Copa América final.