At the conclusion of his court case after being charged with tax fraud, Messi’s prison sentence samounted to 21 months. However, he won’t serve a day.
If you bet on sports in Spain, Messi going to trial for alleged tax evasion had the potential to be very big news. If he had been forced to miss playing time then Barcelona would be severely weakened, both in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. So, the news that Messi’s prison sentence was 21 months, with the same sentence also imposed upon his father, had shocking plausible implications for the football world. However, before you rush to bet on Real Madrid, wait: Messi isn’t going to prison.
A Catalonian court judged that Messi and his father were guilty of tax evasion related to the footballer’s image rights. They owed in excess of €4m to the state. Spanish legal laws, though, suspend sentences that are less than two years for those that do not have criminal record. He will be free to play for Barcelona this season, although he recently declared he would not longer represent the Argentinean national team.
Messi’s prison sentence not unique among Barcelona players
Messi’s prison sentence relates unpaid tax between 2007 and 2009, when he was in his early twenties. Lionel Messi claimed to know “nothing” about his finances, while his father claimed that a legal advisor had informed him that concealing imagine earnings in Belize and Uruguay tax havens was legal. This excuse was insufficient in the eyes of the court, and along with his sentence he was fined €1.7m; his father was fined €1.3m.
Several of Messi’s Barcelona teammates have also had problems with tax. Neymar received a fine of over €45m from a court in Brazil for tax misconduct relating to his sponsorship. Javier Mascherano, the Barcelona defender and Messi’s international teammate, received a 12-month prison sentence for avoiding tax; like Messi, he did not have to complete his sentence.
Messi’s prison sentence prompted a message of support from his club, Barcelona: “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.”
Their statement continued continued, “The club, in agreement with the government prosecution service, considers that the player, who has corrected his position with the Spanish tax office, is in no way criminally responsible with regards to the facts underlined in this case. 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.”
For now it seems that Messi’s prison sentence won’t affect football, and so fans of La Liga can rest easy. However, this news won’t be any comfort to those who
bet on sports in Argentina, as he still remains in self-enforced exile from the recent Copa America Centenario runners-up.