On Wednesday, a Spanish Supreme Court denied Lionel Messi’s appeal and upheld the Barcelona superstar’s 21-month prison sentence on 3 counts of tax evasion. Messi’s father, Jorge, saw his own sentence reduced from 21 to 15 months, after his cooperation and return of a portion of the defrauded funds. On top of that, Messi and his father were ordered to pay fines of about €2m and €1.5m, respectively.
Neither are likely to see a day behind bars, however: under Spanish law, non-violent first offenders avoid prison time for sentences of less than 2 years, going under probation instead.
Between 2007 and 2009, the two Messis used shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland, and the U.K. to avoid paying taxes adding up to €4.1 million on money earned from image rights.
The five-time FIFA World Player of the Year continues to insist that he had no knowledge of the wrongdoing. “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.”
Mario Maza, the state attorney representing the tax authorities during the trial, saw it differently. “It could be that they are inexperienced with tax matters and the law and are not able to set up their own companies, but they are able to understand what paying your taxes means,” he said.
Soccer players in hot water over unpaid taxes seems to be en vogue nowadays, as the Messi news comes just days after his Argentina teammates Ángel Di Maria and Javier Pastore saw their homes raided in a tax fraud probe by French police. Messi’s Barcelona teammate was also sentenced to a sub-2-year prison sentence in Spain for unpaid taxes. Given the “Football Leaks” report that named a plethora of players as possible tax evaders, it’s likely that Messi will not be the last futbolero to come under scrutiny for evading taxes.