Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in jail for tax fraud by a Spanish court.
Under Spanish law any sentence under two years can be suspended meaning the Barcelona and former Argentina footballer is expected to avoid serving time in prison.
The 29-year-old, among the world’s highest-earning athletes, was accused of creating a string of fake companies in Belize and Uruguay to avoid taxation on €4.16m (£3.2m) of image rights earnings between 2007 and 2009.
Messi, who took time out from Argentina’s preparations for the Copa America tournament this summer, said in court last month: “I was playing football; I had no idea about anything. I trusted my dad and my lawyers.”
The Argentinian’s father Jorge Horacio Messi has also been handed the same punishment. The pair, who also face huge fines, can appeal their sentences through the Supreme Court.
During the trial, Messi said he never suspected any wrongdoing when his father would ask him to sign contracts or documents relating to his image rights, a lucrative source of income for any athlete of his calibre.
Witness Eva Blazquez, responsible for handling the four-time Champions League winner’s tax declarations, said: “Leo didn’t see them. The final supervision was done by the client, in this case, Jorge Messi.”
Messi’s father reiterated last month that his son didn’t know the details of his contracts. “I didn’t think it was necessary to inform him of everything,” he said.