In Brief

Messi sentenced to 21 months in jail for tax fraud

Four-time World Footballer of the Year expected to be spared prison for first-time offence

Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in jail for tax fraud.

The footballer and his father, Jorge Horacio, who was also sentenced to 21 months imprisonment, were found guilty of three counts of tax fraud by a court in Barcelona.

However, he is "unlikely to end up in jail as sentences of less than two years are normally suspended for first time offences in Spain", says the Daily Telegraph, while the conviction is also "unlikely to hinder Messi's football career," notes The Guardian.

The four-time World player of the Year was accused of creating a string of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid taxation on €4.16m (£3.2m) of image rights earnings between 2007 and 2009.

Messi told the court he "knew nothing" about the management of his financial affairs, saying his father dealt with them while he was "playing football".

Witness Eva Blazquez, who handled the Barcelona star's tax declarations, said: "Leo didn't see them. The final supervision was done by the client, in this case, Jorge Messi."

For his part, Messi's father claimed he did not have enough knowledge to orchestrate such a fraud and blamed his tax advisers.

As well as the jail terms, Messi was fined nearly €2m (£1.5m) and his father €1.5m (£1.1m). The pair already made a voluntary €5m (£3.8m) "corrective payment", equal to the alleged unpaid tax plus interest, in August 2013.

Messi, who was named by Forbes magazine as the fourth richest sportsman in the world, is estimated to earn in the region of £42m a year through his club wages and a series of high-profile endorsements.

He is not the only Barcelona name to come under scrutiny for his tax affairs, reports the Guardian. Neymar was recently fined nearly £40m by a Brazilian court for evading tax on his sponsorship deals, while Javier Mascherano received a 12-month prison sentence last year for tax avoidance, but also avoided serving time.

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