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Messi May Get Fine instead of Prison Stay over Tax Fraud | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Barcelona state prosecutor said it was not opposed to substituting a 21-month prison sentence for a fine for tax fraud handed down to football star Lionel Messi. (Reuters)

The Barcelona state prosecutor said on Friday that it was possible for substituting a prison sentence for a fine for tax fraud against football star Lionel Messi, as long as the fine was the maximum allowed under law.

The maximum fine would be 255,500 euros (224,381.15 pounds), Reuters calculations showed, on top of a nearly 2 million euro fine handed down as part of last year’s sentence.

The Argentina and Barcelona star was sentenced to 21 months in jail.

Neither is the prosecutor opposed to suspending Messi’s prison sentence, and that of his father, on proviso that they have no more brushes with the law for three years given that both have had clean criminal records up to now.

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.

The judge in charge of the case will make a decision bearing in mind the prosecutor’s recommendations. Judges usually follow the state prosecutor’s recommendations in Spain.

On Wednesday, Messi’s Argentina teammate Angel Di Maria agreed to a deal with Spain’s state prosecutor in which the former Real Madrid forward admitted to two counts of tax fraud of almost 1.3 million euros ($1.4 million) in exchange for a lighter sentence.

In a document reviewed by The Associated Press, Di Maria’s lawyer accepted the two counts, which relate to fraud committed in 2012 and 2013. The prosecutor recommended a sentence of 16 months and a fine of nearly 800,000 euros ($890,000).

Di Maria, who currently plays for French club Paris Saint-Germain, will likely not serve any prison time because sentences of less than two years for first-time offenders are usually suspended in Spain.
The deal will have to be ratified by a judge when the case goes to court.

The case involves income the Argentina forward made from image rights, not from his salary paid by Real Madrid.

The document formalizing the deal between the parties said that Di Maria used a company in Panama to avoid tax.

In March, a day after being summoned to answer a judge’s questions regarding the fraud investigation, Di Maria paid 1.45 million euros ($1.6 million) to Spain’s Tax Office.

Di Maria, 29, played for Real Madrid from 2010-2014 before a move to Manchester United prior to joining PSG.

The state prosecutor’s office in Madrid has intensified its pursuit of alleged tax fraud in football. It has accused Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo and former Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho of tax fraud worth several millions of euros in the last two weeks, with both men denying any wrongdoing.

On Tuesday, Ronaldo was told to appear before a judge for questioning on July 31.

Also, last month former Atletico Madrid striker Radamel Falcao and Real Madrid defender Fabio Coentrao were accused by the prosecutor’s office of not paying all their taxes.

Di Maria’s deal is similar to the one struck by Barcelona defender Javier Mascherano, who was convicted of tax fraud last year and given a suspended one-year sentence.