The Court of Catalonia today, Wednesday ruled that Messi, and his father Jorge, were guilty of three counts of tax fraud relating to the player’s image rights. The court issued the same prison sentence to Jorge Messi, along with a fine of €1.5m. However, in Spain prison sentences of less than two years given for non-violent offences to those without criminal records are traditionally suspended, meaning neither man will go to jail.
Messi and his father were accused by the Spanish tax office of defrauding the government of €4.2m in tax between 2007 and 2009. The court ruled that they had used a group of shell companies in nations such as Belize, Switzerland and Uruguay to reduce tax on income from image rights deals.
Five-time Fifa Ballon d’Or winner Messi and his father claimed during last month’s trial that the player was unaware of the tax issues that led to the fraud charges, denying any wrongdoing. Messi also claimed his father had control over his financial affairs, but the court ruled this was not sufficient for him to avoid charges.
Messi, a five time World Player of the Year and one of the world's highest-earning athletes with an estimated income of $465 million over the past 10 years, plays for FC Barcelona where he is the leading goal scorer of all time.
Barcelona football club said in a statement following the ruling that it does not consider the player to be in any way criminally responsible.
"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," the club said.
According to Forbes magazine, Messi earns a total of $81.4 million a year, making him second in their list of world's highest-paid athletes for this year.