On Wednesday, a Spanish court declared Lionel Messi guilty of tax fraud and sentenced him to 21 months in prison with a €2 million fine. In addition, his father, Jorge Horacio Messi was handed the same jail time penalty with a €1.5 million fine. Both were found guilty of one count of tax fraud, however, under the Spanish legal system, people who face jail time for non-violent crimes rarely go to prison. Instead, they pay the fines and only go to jail if they are caught at it for a second time in the next couple of years.

Messi's tax fraud
Soccer player Lionel Messi (left) sits next to his father Jose Horacio, during trial. Credit: Yahoo

The five times soccer player of the world made it to the headlines in 2013 when legal authorities opened an investigation on him. According to them, the man was using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on his sponsorship earnings from 2007 to 2009. A couple of years later, the Panama papers were leaked, and a lot of people was discovered using the countries tax haven to avoid paying taxes and other kinds of unethical financial actions. After going through the documents, the authorities found one of the companies belonged to Messi and his father, Jorge, and it was then when things got complicated for the soccer star.

Messi said he knew nothing about it, but the court did not believe him

A Spanish court started the legal process against Barcelona Futbol Club’s top scorer and his father. It charged both men with three counts of tax. The legal institution was presented with evidence that Messi and his father were the owners of a couple of Sport companies based in Uruguay, Belize and Switzerland in addition to the one they had in Panama. All these countries are considered tax havens due to their financial policies.

The Argentinian soccer player said he knew nothing about any criminal activity, and it could be true. Athletes and other celebrities start making a lot of money at a really young age entering a world that most of the times nor them or their parents know. That is why they usually put their full trust on financial consultants. That is why it was no surprise when Jorge Messi said it was the financial adviser’s fault. However, for the Spanish court this was not enough to completely free them of the charges.

The court considered that the information was always available, and rather than ignorance, it was indifference about the situation. Accordingly, it found the Messi is guilty of one out of three tax fraud counts and laid the 21 months in jail sentence plus the multi-million fines.

“(His) avoidable ignorance, which was derived from indifference, is not an error, and it does not remove responsibility,” the presiding judge, Mercedes Armas Galve, wrote in the statement.

The Barcelona FC’s administration never doubted Messi’s innocence, and apparently, they don’t have to worry about losing their best player due to a jail sentence. According to local forces, non-violent criminals rarely end up in jail when it is their first time. However, they enter in a “probation” time of two years in which if they caught committing the same crime again, they immediately go to jail.

Nor Messi or his father have made an official comment on the result, and it is no clear if they are going to start legal action against their financial advisers. Yet, it would be safe to assume they are on the market for new service providers.

Source: ESPN