BY DICKSON AGBO
Spain’s public prosecutor has agreed to substitute Lionel Messi’s suspended 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud with a fine.
The Barcelona superstar was given the jail term last July after being found guilty – alongside his father Jorge – of three counts of tax fraud. It was ruled that Messi, between 2007 and 2009, defrauded Spain of €4.1million relating to earnings from image rights.
An appeal against the sentence was rejected by the Spanish Supreme Court in May.
However, Spanish news agency EFE reports that the public prosecutor has agreed to substitute the sentence for a fine of €255,000, equating to €400 for each day behind bars, although the court has the final decision over whether to go ahead with this option.
The daily fine would come on top of the 2.09-million-euro fine Messi was also given when he and his father Jorge Horacio Messi were found guilty of tax fraud in a trial last year and sentenced to 21 months in jail.
Both appealed, but Spain’s Supreme Court last month confirmed the jail term for the Barcelona striker, although it reduced Messi’s father’s sentence to 15 months.
The pair used companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes on 4.16 million euros of Messi’s income earned from his image rights from 2007-09.
The income related to Messi’s image rights that was hidden includes endorsement deals with Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.
Messi is not the only football star to run into problems with Spain’s courts, with Real Madrid striker Cristiano Ronaldo the latest to have been summoned to appear before a judge investigating tax fraud.
He is due to be questioned on July 31 on suspicion of evading 14.7 million euros in taxes.
During the initial trial in 2016, Messi consistently denied any involvement, insisting his focus was only ever on playing football.