Football star Lionel Messi was handed a 21-month jail sentence for tax fraud by a Spanish judge despite pleading innocence over the state of his finances.
The court found that Messi and his father, who was also handed a 21-month sentence, failed to pay the Spanish government a total of €4.1 million ($4.5 million) from 2007 to 2009. Additionally, various offshore financial arrangements were made in Belize and Uruguay to conceal some of the Barcelona’s star’s earnings.
According to Messi, he had no idea what was going on with his finances, but ignorance is no excuse in this sort of matter and the guilty verdict is very likely to stick even if Messi and co. decided to appeal.
While Spanish law dictates that a first-time offender that is sentenced to two-years or less in prison after being found guilty of a non-violent crime, can serve his sentence under probation instead of behind bars, the verdict will be something of a financial blow to the Argentine forward.
However, not nearly to the extent that the likes of Lance Armstrong or Oscar Pistorius were hit.
Sponsors dropped Armstrong by the dozen after the American cyclist’s long history of doping was exposed, while Pistorius – who was sentenced to six years in prison on Tuesday for the murder of his girlfriend, has to fend for himself now as well.
Admittedly Messi’s case is somewhat different to that of Armstrong or Pistorius – his claims of ignorance certainly don’t abscond him from guilt but it certainly provided him with plausible deniability, and tax fraud is just not nearly as heinous a crime as murder, irrespective of the circumstances.
Until one of his many sponsors sever ties with Messi – if that happens at all – he is unlikely to feel the financial pinch too much, particularly since a voluntary €5m “corrective payment”, equal to the alleged unpaid tax plus interest, was made in August 2013.
At this point, the only additional bill he has to foot, lawyer’s fees aside, is the €2m fine that he was handed in addition to the prison sentence.
Not too bad for someone who is worth approximately $81.4 Million according to the latest Forbes rich list.
Should some of his sponsors withdraw, a financial institution for which tax fraud would be a particularly serious offence, for instance, a crescendo of sponsors dropping Messi could follow?
Until then, if it ever comes to pass, Messi got has come through the whole ordeal relatively unscathed.