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Barcelona forward Lionel Messi has been handed a 21-month jail sentence, according to Spanish media, along with his father Jorge Horacio Messi, after being found guilty of tax evasion.
The 29-year-old is unlikely to spend time behind bars, under Spanish law, but will spend that period under probation, meaning that the Argentine will be free to carry on playing at the Camp Nou.
A non violent offence, with no previous criminal convictions, under Spanish law, is expected to not result in the convicted individual(s) spending time behind bars, when the sentence in less than 24 months.
Jorge, Messi’s father, was also found guilty of defrauding the Spanish authorities of €4.1 million (£3.2m; $4.6m) from 2007 to 2009, while Messi’s entourage were accused of creating a string of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay, to avoid paying tax on his earnings.
Messi, widely regarded as the best footballer on the planet, is also one of sport’s top earners, and it is understood that earnings of his image rights were not disclosed to Spanish authorities.
Three counts of tax fraud were identified, involving Messi and Jorge Horacio Messi, but the Barcelona star claimed he “knew nothing” about the management of his finances, insisting that he was instead focused on”playing football”.
It is understood that they will both face millions of euros in fines, with it understood that Messi’s father, Jorge, will face a €1.7 million (£1.4 million) fine.
Speaking in court last month, Messi, who has a net worth of £270 million, said: “I trusted my dad and my lawyers.
“The truth is no, the truth is no, I didn’t know.
“As my dad explained earlier I just dedicated myself to playing football, I put my trust in my father, in the lawyers who had decided to manage this thing.”
The football star is understood to have willingly signed documents, requested by his father, without any concern that any legal wrongdoing was involved.
Eva Blazquez, who was a witness at the prosecution, and understood to have dealt with handling the footballer’s tax declarations, said: “Leo didn’t see them. The final supervision was done by the client, in this case, Jorge Messi.”
Jorge Horacio Messi said at the trial: “I didn’t think it was necessary to inform him of everything,”
Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Danone, Procter and Gamble, Banco Sabadell and the Kuwait Food Company, all have image rights deals with the four-time UEFA Champions League winner.
Messi made a voluntary payment of £3.8 million back in August 2013, to cover unpaid tax and interest.
It has been a testing period for the forward, who is one of the most decorated players on the planet, after recently retiring from international football with Argentina.
The Barcelona academy graduate missed a spot kick in the championship-deciding penalty shoot-out loss to Chile in the Copa America, last month. It was the second consecutive year that Argentina had lost the final to Chile.
Messi has come under criticism in recent years, for his performances on the international stage, while Diego Maradona has urged him to return to international football.