Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has been given a 21-month jail sentence for tax evasion – but is unlikely to go to prison.
Messi and his father, Jorge, have received the same sentence but under Spanish law a prison sentence under two years for a first-time non-violent crime can be served on probation, meaning they are unlikely to serve any time.
A Barcelona court found both men guilty of three counts of tax fraud. The sentence can be appealed through the Spanish supreme court, a statement said.
The court ordered Messi to pay a fine of around £1.7m and his father to pay £1.27m.
The case concluded on 3 June, with prosecutors contending that Messi’s father was the main person responsible for defrauding Spain’s tax authority of £3.19m from 2007-09.
However, the legal representative for the tax office said the Barcelona forward knew enough to also be held accountable.
The pair were accused of using tax havens in Uruguay and Belize to hide more than £3m in earnings from image rights from the Spanish tax authorities.
The footballer told his trial he knew nothing of how his money was managed and admitted signing documents without reading them.
He told the court last month: “The truth is no, the truth is no, I didn’t know.
“As my dad explained earlier I just dedicated myself to playing football, I put my trust in my father, in the lawyers who had decided to manage this thing.”
Messi’s lawyers said he never examined a series of contracts between 2007 and 2009 which dealt with the income from image rights with companies including Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Danone, Procter and Gamble, Banco Sabadell and the Kuwait Food Company.
He made a voluntary payment of £3.8m in August 2013 to cover unpaid tax and interest.
Messi – who has been voted World Player of the Year five times – confirmed his international retirement in the run-up to the verdict.