Barcelona star Javier Mascherano is potentially heading to prison after being handed a one-year sentence on Thursday for tax-evasion charges.
According to Sport, the 31-year-old Argentine was also fined €815,000 after confessing to a pair of tax-related offences.
The publication added: "Mascherano's lawyer, David Aineto, has requested the automatic suspension of the one-year prison sentence and wants it to be replaced by a fine of around €21,000."
The presiding judge is expected to rule on Aineto's offer in the coming days.
Mascherano released an open letter regarding the charges later in the day, per football journalist Guillem Balague:
After agreeing my arrival at Barcelona I engaged the services of a prestigious Spanish tax firm of the highest professional standing and excellent reputation. Having in consideration my situation, they recommended to me certain financial structures, all of which they informed me were common practise, totally transparent and accepted by the law.
I was assessed by these professionals from 2010 until 2014 when I decided to change my advisors in view of the proceedings that had been initiated against me along with evidence that my problem was no longer just a possibility but had become a reality.
My new advisors recommended that I should pay all the taxes being reclaimed by the Inland Revenue presenting what is referred to as ‘corrections’ over all the relevant fiscal years. Now, finally, and after a bitter and painful episode in my life I have finally reached agreement which leaves me safe in the knowledge that I am fully up to date with all my financial obligations.
I am a professional sportsman and I do not have great knowledge of neither legal nor tax-related matters. For that reason I need to rely on the support of those people trained to deal with such matters that, for me, are complicated. Throughout my career I have been honest and responsible, respecting my team mates at the clubs and all those countries where I have lived. This situation I have found myself in I will treat as one more experience in my life from which, hopefully, I can emerge stronger, at peace and content in the knowledge that I am once again in compliance with the law.
I reserve the right to take possible action against those advisors who mismanaged my affairs and recommended things to me that were not correct.
While avoiding prison isn't yet guaranteed, former Sun and Daily Mail contributor Ben Fairthorne is among those who believe the deal will be accepted:
Absolutely no way Mascherano will serve one day in prison. They never do. Money talks.— Ben Fairthorne (@BFairthorne) January 21, 2016
The current Barca and former Liverpool standout has long been a steady defensive presence on the pitch, and losing him would be a major blow to a Blaugrana team that trails Atletico Madrid by two points for first place in the La Liga standings.
The impact of Mascherano's sentencing stretches far beyond that, though, as it could set a precedent for similar cases moving forward.
While all cases are different, the judge's decision with regard to Mascherano could offer a glimpse into what will ultimately happen to Messi and Neymar should either or both be found guilty.
There is plenty hanging in the balance for Barcelona right now, and while they may be able to ascend to the top of La Liga without Mascherano because of the talent they possess elsewhere on the squad, a suspended sentence would go a long way toward easing concern when it comes to their other stars as well.
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