Barcelona football star Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in prison after a court in Barcelona found him guilty of three counts of tax fraud.

The court handed the same jail sentence to the Argentine player's father, Jorge, and fined him €1.5 million. Messi, 29, and his father were accused by the Spanish tax office of defrauding the government of €4.2 million in tax between 2007 and 2009.

Messi, 29, and his father were accused by the Spanish tax office of defrauding the government of €4.2 million in tax between 2007 and 2009 by using a web of offshore companies to hide earnings.

The sentence can be appealed through the Spanish supreme court, the court statement said. However, in Spain it is customary that those sentenced to under two years for non-violent crimes do not serve time in jail.

Prosecutors had sought a 22-month sentence for both. 

Messi, five-times World Player of the Year, said during the trial that he had no knowledge of the dealings and that his father had control over his financial affairs. But the court said this was not enough for him to avoid charges.

Messi and his father had already paid €5 million to the tax authorities as a "corrective" measure after formal investigations were opened.

The footballer is 10th on Forbes Magazine's list of the world's highest-earning athletes over the past decade, with an estimated income of $350 million during this period.

 

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