Barca back Messi over tax fraud jail

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Barcelona have expressed their support for Argentine striker Lionel Messi and his father after the Spanish Supreme Court upheld their prison sentences over tax fraud charges.

Five-time World Player of the Year winner Messi, who has been at Barcelona since the age of 13, was handed a 21-month prison sentence and fined 2 million euros ($2.25 million) for three counts of tax fraud between 2007 and 2009.

“The club reiterates, once again, its full support for Leo Messi, his father Jorge Messi, and his family,” a statement on the club’s official website read.

“FC Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu contacted the player’s family to communicate this support.

“The family was very grateful, not only for today’s gesture, but also for the support the player and his family have received from the club throughout this process. The club will continue to stand with Leo Messi, his father, and his family.”

Argentine international Messi has scored 506 goals in 582 senior appearances for Barcelona, winning eight league titles and four Champions League trophies.

Spain’s Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by  Messi and stood by a Catalan regional court’s 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud, court documents showed.

Messi and his father Jorge were found guilty by a Catalan court last July on three counts of tax fraud between 2007 and 2009 to the tune of 4.1 million euros on image rights and were also fined 2 million euros ($2.24 million).

The court reduced Jorge Messi’s sentence from 21 months to 15, however, for returning the defrauded amount to Spain’s tax authority.

Neither Messi nor his father are expected to serve time in jail, as under Spanish law sentences under two years can be served under probation.

A court statement said Messi “unequivocally understood his obligation to pay tax on income obtained from exploiting his image rights…therefore it is not logical that he should ignore his duty to pay tax on them”.

The Supreme Court’s ruling brings an end to a case which began in 2013.

Messi, 29, and his father defrauded the Spanish tax office of 4.1 million euros between 2007 and 2009 by using a web of shell companies based in Belize, Switzerland and Uruguay to evade taxes on income from the player’s image rights.