Soccer Star Lionel Messi and Father Receive Prison Sentences, but Won’t Serve Time

By Denisse Moreno, Epoch Times
July 6, 2016 Last Updated: July 6, 2016

A Barcelona court on July 6 sentenced soccer star Lionel Messi and his father to 21 months in prison for tax fraud–but they won’t actually serve time.

Messi, 29, and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, were found guilty of three counts of defrauding the tax department of 4.1 million euros ($4.6 million).

They are accused of using offshore companies in Belize and Uruguay to reduce tax on Messi’s income from image rights from 2007 to 2009. Messi’s father argued that he was told by a legal adviser that the practice was legal.

Because their sentences are less than two years, they are suspended and neither Messi will go to jail.

Messi was fined 2 million euros ($2.2 million), while his father was fined 1.5 million euros ($1.66 million).

During the trial, which lasted four days, Messi and his father denied any wrongdoing, and both said the soccer player did not know about the tax problems that led to fraud.

The sentence can be appealed.

Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona and his father Jorge Horacio Messi seen inside the court during the third day of the trial on June 2, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain. Lionel Messi and his father Jorge Messi, who manages his financial affairs, are accused of defrauding the Spanish Tax Agency of 4.1 million Euros ($4.6 million, £3.2 million) by using companies based in tax havens such as Belize and Uruguay to conceal earnings from image rights during years 2007 to 2009.  (Photo by Alberto Estevez - Pool/Getty Images)
Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona and his father Jorge Horacio Messi inside the court during the third day of the trial on June 2, 2016, in Barcelona, Spain. (Alberto Estevez – Pool/Getty Images)

Messi, who plays for Spain’s FC Barcelona, received support from his team after the court’s decision.

“FC Barcelona gives all its support to Leo Messi and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today,” the team said in a statement. “FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposal of Leo Messi and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defence of his honesty and his legal interests.”

Barcelona's football star Lionel Messi (L) leaves the courthouse on June 2, 2016 in Barcelona. The 28-year-old football star was cheered and jeered as he emerged from a van accompanied by his father Jorge Horacio Messi. The two are accused of using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16 million euros ($4.6 million) of Messi's income earned through the sale of his image rights from 2007-09. / AFP / LLUIS GENE        (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
Barcelona’s football star Lionel Messi (L) leaves the courthouse on June 2, 2016, in Barcelona.
The 28-year-old football star was cheered and jeered as he emerged from a van accompanied by his father Jorge Horacio Messi. (Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images)

More Accusations

Messi was named in the Panama Papers scandal after the massive Mossack Fonseca data leak earlier this year.

Spanish tax officials said on April 4 they launched an investigation on the accusations of tax irregularities involving Messi after the leak.

The Messi’s responded in a statement claiming they were not guilty of any wrongdoing. They also threatened to sue media outlets if they released information that linked the Barcelona player to accounts in Panama.

The data leak shows that Messi and his father owned another offshore company in Panama: Mega Star Enterprises. The first reference to the company in the Panama Papers was on June 13, 2013—a day after authorities in Spain filed tax fraud charges against the soccer star and his father, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ). June 23, 2013 was the first reference in the records that showed the Messis owning the Mega Star company.

The Panama Papers include the names of almost 20 well-known soccer players, current and former, from clubs like Barcelona, Manchester United, and Real Madrid, according to the ICIJ.

Barcelona's football star Lionel Messi (C), followed by his father Jorge Horacio Messi (R) leaves the courthouse on June 2, 2016 in Barcelona, where Messi and his father are to face judges in a tax fraud case. The 28-year-old football star was cheered and jeered as he emerged from a van accompanied by his father Jorge Horacio Messi. The two are accused of using a chain of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16 million euros ($4.6 million) of Messi's income earned through the sale of his image rights from 2007-09. / AFP / LLUIS GENE        (Photo credit should read LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images)
Barcelona’s football star Lionel Messi (C), followed by his father Jorge Horacio Messi (R) leaves the courthouse on June 2, 2016 in Barcelona, where Messi and his father are to face judges in a tax fraud case.
(Lluis Gene/AFP/Getty Images)

Possible Retirement

The court decision comes after Messi hinted he would retire after missing a penalty kick and losing the Copa America final against Chile at the Metlife Stadium in New Jersey, on June 26.

The Fútbol Club Barcelona player has taken the Argentine team to four finals, but has not been able to win a trophy.

Although Messi lost the Copa America final, he broke an Argentinian soccer record during the tournament. He has surpassed Gabriel Batistuta as the country’s highest goalscorer of all time. Messi earned the recognition after scoring his 55th goal for the national team during the match against the United States in front of 70,000 spectators in Houston.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.