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Added July 12th, 2016 by Ian

Could Lionel Messi leave Barcelona after tax fraud conviction?

Barcelona and former Argentina captain Lionel Messi was sentenced to 21 months in prison this week for tax fraud and there are now fears that he may leave the Spanish La Liga. The 29-year-old, who retired from international football recently after Argentina’s Copa America Cup Final loss to Chile in a penalty shootout, reportedly defrauded the Spanish authorities of approximate 4.1 million euros. The soccer player’s agent and father Jorge Messi was also handed a jail sentence for committing tax fraud between the years 2007 and 2009. The pair will also be fined millions of euros, but unlike the common man, their 21 month sentences mean they won’t end up serving any time in jail since terms of less than two years in Spain can be served on probation.

It was alleged that the Messi’s set up tax havens in Uruguay and Belize to hide their earnings from the player’s image rights. Messi and his father claimed they hadn’t done anything wrong, but were found guilty on three tax-fraud counts in a Barcelona court. In addition, the “innocent” pair voluntarily paid five million euros to the Spanish taxman in August of 2013 for unpaid taxes and the interest. The Messi’s have the right to appeal the prison sentence to the Spanish supreme court. There’s no doubt Messi’s one of the world’s best players as he’s won the FIFA Ballon d’Or award a record five times and has been named Europe’s player of the year three times. He’s also won numerous club medals with Barcelona and is Argentina’s all-time leading international scorer at 55 goals.

However, Messi hasn’t been quite as successful at the international level as he has been with Barcelona. He managed to win an Olympic Gold medal with his country in 2008, but has lost three Copa America finals and a World Cup Final in the past nine years. The recent loss to Chile in the Copa America Centenario Tournament led him to retire from the Argentine team after he missed one of the penalties in the shootout. FC Barcelona said the club supports both of the Messi’s an regards to their convictions, but Javier Tebas, the president of the Spanish La Liga, fears Messi may now decide to leave Spain and play elsewhere.

After the sentences were announced Tebas told the media, “Of course I fear that he could leave, but the only thing I can tell Messi is that from La Liga we believe he isn’t guilty and we are happy to have him here.” However, if the pair decide to appeal the decision it’s likely he’ll remain in Spain until the mess is sorted out once and for all. If Messi decides to play elsewhere he could always go back to Argentina, but it’s believed that the rich English Premier League clubs will fall all over themselves in an attempt to sign him. Other successful and rich European teams such as Paris Saint Germain of France will also be keeping an eye on further developments.

 
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