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Court rejects Messi tax fraud sentence appeal

Barcelona football star Lionel Messi was sentenced to a 21-month prison sentence but is unlikely to serve time.

FILE: Football star Lionel Messi leaving the courthouse in Barcelona on 2 June 2016. Picture: AFP.

MADRID- Spain's Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected an appeal by Barcelona football star Lionel Messi and stood by a Catalan regional court's 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud court documents showed.

Messi was found guilty by a Catalan court last July on three counts of tax fraud between 2007 and 2009.

Messi's lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

Spanish law is such that any sentence under two years for a non-violent crime rarely requires a defendant without previous convictions to serve jail time. A spokeswoman for the court confirmed Messi was unlikely to be imprisoned.

Messi, 29, and his father defrauded the Spanish tax office of almost €4.2 million between 2007 and 2009 by using a web of shell companies to evade taxes on income from the player's image rights, the court said in a written ruling.

The companies, with names such as Sport Consultants and Sport Enterprises, were based in tax havens such as Belize, Uruguay and Switzerland where legislation kept the identities of their owners' secret, according to the ruling.

Messi, five-times world player of the year, admitted during the trial to signing contracts protecting his image rights but said he had no knowledge he was partaking in any wrongdoing or defrauding the Spanish state.

He said his father had control over his financial affairs, but the court said that this was not enough to avoid charges.

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