Barcelona have offered their backing to Lionel Messi after he was given a prison sentence for tax fraud offences.
The 29-year-old, along with his father, was found guilty of three counts of fiscal fraud related to image rights accrued between 2007 and 2009, and given a 21-month jail sentence by a Spanish court, along with a fine totalling €2million.
Neither Messi nor his father, Jorge, are likely to serve any time in prison as the sentence was less than two years for a non-violent offence and neither holds a criminal record.
Both men – who have always denied any wrongdoing – may appeal the decision, which came about despite a voluntary “corrective payment” of €5m made to authorities in August 2013 to cancel out the alleged amount of unpaid tax, plus interest.
And Barcelona say they will support any decision Messi and his family should decide to take in the wake of the ruling.
“FC Barcelona gives all its support to Leo Messi and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today,” a club statement read.
“The club, in agreement with the Government prosecution service, considers that the player, who has corrected his position with the Spanish Tax Office, is in no way criminally responsible with regards to the facts underlined in this case.
“FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposal of Leo Messi and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defence of his honesty and his legal interests.”
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