Argentina and Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi has been sentenced for 21 months for tax fraud by a Spanish court. His father, Jorge Messi, was also given a jail term for defrauding Spain of €4.1m (£3.5m; $4.5m) between 2007 and 2009.
Lionel Messi 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.
The court has also ordered Messi to pay a fine of about €2 million, while his father was dealt a €1.5m fine for the tax evasion.
Under the Spanish system, prison terms of under two years can be served under probation.
During the trial, Lionel Messi insisted he “knew nothing” about the management of his financial affairs, saying his father dealt with them while he was “playing football”. Messi said in court last month: “I was playing football; I had no idea about anything. I trusted my dad and my lawyers.”
However, in October 2014 the state prosecutor decided to continue with the charges, and during June’s court case its representative, Mario Maza, said that the Argentina captain’s claims of not understanding how the system worked were not acceptable, as even children knew that taxes had to be paid in full.
Barcelona issued a statement on Wednesday in support of their star player. “FC Barcelona gives all its support to Leo Messi and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today,” the statement read.
“FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposal of Leo Messi and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defence of his honesty and his legal interests.”
Lionel Messi retired from International Football last month. He has won Fifa World player of the year five times and he is one of the richest athlete in the world.