On July 6, a Spanish court found Lionel Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, guilty of 3 counts of tax evasion and sentenced them to 21 months in prison. This is part of ongoing tax fraud charge the father and son have been fighting for years. Spanish tax officials charged both with defrauding Spain of 4.1 million euros during a two-year period (2007-2009).
The officials alleged that Messi’s money was illegally funneled away from tax collectors to companies established in Uruguay, Switzerland and Belize. Messi’s defense was that the companies were created to handle his income from image rights and that he was just “following advice” from financial and tax advisors, as well as from his father. “I just played football,” the 29 year-old soccer star told the judge during the pair’s trial. “I signed the contracts because I trusted my dad and the lawyers and we had decided that they would take charge of those things.” The prosecution stated that even though Messi was not familiar with tax issues, there was evidence indicating he could have known and consented to the tax structures in place.
Messi and his father are planing to appeal Wednesday’s sentence. Either way, it is very unlikely the soccer star will spend any time in jail. Under Spanish law, a tax prison sentence of less than 2 years can be served under probation. He will in fact be responsible for paying a fine of roughly 2 million euros and his father faces a fine of 1.5 million euros.
The bottom line for athletes, as well as for people in general, is to make sure you know what you are agreeing to when it comes to your taxes. Ultimately, it is your responsibility and there will be penalties to pay if you do not have the proper structures in place.