It’s been a tough year for Lionel Messi. Following his devastating loss to Chile in the Copa America finals, the football star announced his retirement from the Argentinian national team. Now comes the news that he has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for tax evasion.
Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, were found guilty of defrauding Spain of €4.1m between 2007 and 2009. The Associated Press reports that they face a total of €3.5m in fines in addition to prison time as a result of the conviction.
However, it’s unlikely that either will spend time behind bars. Spanish law allows any tax prison sentence that is under two years long to be served on probation, provided the terms of probation are adhered to.
The accusations of tax evasion came as part of the Panama Papers scandal. Messi asserted during the trial that he “knew nothing” about his tax affairs and was just “playing football.” He further insisted he did not have the knowledge required to orchestrate such a fraud, placing blame on his tax consultants instead.
Following the verdict, the Barcelona football club issued a statement expressing “all its support to Leo Messi and his father.” The club said that it considers the player to be “in no way criminally responsible with regards to the facts underlined in this case.”
“FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposition of Leo Messi and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defense of his honesty and his legal interests,” it concludes.