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Lionel Messi and Father Given 21-Month Suspended Prison Sentence for Tax Evasion

Christopher Simpson@@CJSimpsonBRFeatured ColumnistJuly 6, 2016

Barcelona soccer player Lionel Messi, center, leaves the court in Barcelona, Spain, Thursday, June 2, 2016. Lionel Messi denied having knowledge of the tax issues that led to fraud charges against him, saying Thursday he signed documents without reading them because he trusted his father and the advisers responsible for managing his finances. “I didn’t know anything,” Messi said while testifying in his tax fraud trial. “I only worried about playing football.” (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

Barcelona star Lionel Messi and his father Jorge Messi have each been handed 21-month prison sentences for tax evasion, it was revealed on Wednesday.

The BBC relayed the news from the Spanish media, but as the Mirror's Ed Malyon and Margarita Batallas and J.G. Albalat of Spanish outlet El Periodico noted (h/t Sky Sports' Guillem Balague), he won't serve the sentence in prison:

Ed Malyon @eaamalyon

(Unless he does it again)

Guillem Balague @GuillemBalague

21 months for Leo and dad for tax fraud. It will be suspended (it doesn't reach 24 months and no criminal record) https://t.co/q80KKyaiXA

Per Football Espana, the sentence comes from the Court of Catalonia after Lionel and Jorge Messi were found guilty of evading tax "on Lionel's image rights." But as the sentence is under two years and neither has a prior criminal record, no jail time will be served.

Barcelona issued a statement of support for the player and his father on their official website:

FC Barcelona gives all its support to [Messi] and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today.

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.

FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposal of [Messi] and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defence of his honesty and his legal interests. 

Per the Associated Press (h/t Sky Sports), the pair stood trial for tax fraud at the start of June after failing to pay €4.1 million (£3.5 million) between 2007 and 2009.

According to Reuters, they will each receive a substantial fine:

Reuters Sports @ReutersSports

BREAKING: Spanish court sentences Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi to 21 months in prison, fines him 2 million euros for three tax crimes

Reuters Sports @ReutersSports

UPDATE: Spanish court also sentences Messi's father to 21-month prison sentence, around 1.5 million euros for tax crimes.

Per Sky Sports News HQ, Messi and his father will appeal the sentence:

Sky Sports News @SkySportsNews

BREAKING: Lionel Messi given 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud. #SSNHQ https://t.co/b8zdhTrO09

The Barcelona forward denied knowledge of the handling of his finances, but government prosecutor Mario Maza said "Messi and his father did not prove their innocence" or prove the 29-year-old was unaware of the tax evasion, per AP (h/t Sky Sports).

According to the BBC, "tax havens in Belize and Uruguay" were used to defraud the Spanish authorities.

The Argentinian's team-mate Javier Mascherano received a similar punishment in January, and the midfielder has not served any of his one-year prison sentence.

As such, Messi's upcoming campaign with Barcelona will likely be unaffected by the ruling, and he should be available for the Blaugrana when La Liga's 2016-17 season kicks off on August 21.