Soccer star Lionel Messi will appeal against a Spanish court’s Wednesday verdict sentencing him to 21 months in prison for tax fraud, Messi’s lawyers said.
Messi and his father Jorge Horacio Messi were convicted of three counts of tax fraud by a Barcelona court. They were also fined for using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay to conceal earnings from image rights from 2007 to 2009. The 29-year-old Olympic gold medalist who recently announced his retirement from international soccer was fined 2 million euros ($2.2 million) and his father was fined 1.5 million euros for defrauding Spain of 4.1 million euros.
“The sentence is not correct and we are confident the appeal will show the defence was right,” Messi’s lawyers reportedly said. They added that there was a good chance they would succeed in the appeal.
Jorge Messi had managed his son’s finances since the Barcelona striker was a child. During the trial, Messi had reportedly claimed that he “knew nothing” about how his wealth was managed and had completely trusted his father.
“The most recent laws from the supreme court on the matter that concerns us would seem to prove the argument of the defence,” Messi’s lawyers Enrique Bacigalupo and Javier Sanchez-Vera reportedly said.
But the state attorney representing tax authorities in the trial, Mario Maza, said it was unlikely that Messi knew nothing about the situation. “There is no deliberate ignorance here, it’s fraud and that’s all there is to it, because he didn’t want to pay his taxes,” he said.
The income related to Messi’s image rights that was allegedly hidden came from endorsement deals with Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company, reports said.
The player and his father made a voluntary payment of 5 million euros, allegedly equal to the amount of unpaid taxes with interest, in August 2013 when formal investigations into the tax fraud case had started.
According to Spanish law, prison terms under two years can be served under probation for first offences for non-violent crimes.
The Barcelona soccer club issued a statement after the court’s verdict standing by its all-time leading scorer.
“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,” it said.