BREAKING: Lionel Messi handed jail term in Spain for tax fraud

Argentina and Barcelona footballer Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in prison for tax fraud, Spanish media say.

His father, Jorge Messi, was also given a jail term for defrauding Spain of €4.1m (£3.5m; $4.5m) between 2007 and 2009.

They also face millions of euros in fines for using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay used to conceal earnings from image rights.

However, they are likely to avoid jail.

Under the Spanish system, prison terms under two years can be served under probation.

The footballer and his father were found guilty of three counts of tax fraud in Wednesday’s ruling by the court in Barcelona.

During the trial, Lionel Messi claimed he “knew nothing” about the management of his financial affairs, saying he was “playing football”.

The pair were accused of using tax havens in Uruguay and Belize to hide more than £3m in earnings from image rights – with the footballer telling his trial he knew nothing of how his money was managed but had signed 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 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.

BBC.com