Judgement day for Messi; April date for Tax fraud hearing

Lionel Messi’s appeal against a 21-month prison term sentence will come up for hearing in Spain’s Supreme Court on April 20. The five-time World Football Player of the Year is facing the prison sentence for a tax fraud.

Messi’s father Jorge also faces a similar sentence and a fine of 1.5 million euros (Rs 10.6 crore). Messi faces also faces a fine of 2 million Euros (Rs 14.2 crore). A Barcelona Court in July last year has pronounced Messi guilty of three counts of tax fraud, which cost Tax Department in Spain 4.1 million euros (Rs 30.00 crore).

However, Messi and his father may still escape the jail term even if the Supreme Court upholds the earlier verdict. Under Spanish laws any sentence under two years for a non-violent crime rarely requires a defendant without previous convictions to serve jail time.

The father-son duo is guilty of tax fraud between 2007-09 by using a web of shell companies to avoid taxes on income from the player’s image rights. The dispute relates to the use of Messi’s images in contracts with Danone, Adidas, Pepsi and Proctor & Gamble. Messi had denied that he had any knowledge about use of his funds, which were being managed by his father.

Ignorance is no excuse in law. The Barcelona High Court had ruled that “not knowing about his finances did not mean that Messi should be granted impunity”. His name also figures in the Panama Paper Leak scandal, which saw more than 11 million documents leaked from the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

Messi is top scorer in La Liga this season and has netted more goals than any player in matches between Barcelona and their arch-rivals Real Madrid. The hearing date happens to be three days before the game between Barca and Real Madrid, which may be extremely crucial in deciding the La Liga title this season.