Prosecutors have asked the Spanish Supreme Court to review the suspended 21-month prison sentences given to Lionel Messi and his father Jorge after a Barcelona court found them guilty of three counts of tax fraud last year.
Messi and his father were sentenced on July 6. The Supreme Court is this week reviewing their appeals and must decide whether to confirm the punishment or alter it.
A ruling is expected in the coming days.
Prosecutors in last year’s case said Messi and his father had used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay as well as shell companies in the U.K. and Switzerland to avoid paying taxes totalling €4.1 million on earnings from image rights between 2007 and 2009.
Messi, 29, was also ordered to pay a fine of about €2m, while his father was fined €1.5m.
He said last year that he signed many documents without reading their contents and had visited a notary’s office to set up a company to handle his finances without understanding what was going on.
But Mario Maza, the state attorney representing the tax authorities at the trial, said last year he found it unlikely that Messi knew nothing about the situation.
“It could be that they are inexperienced with tax matters and the law and are not able to set up their own companies, but they are able to understand what paying your taxes means,” he added.
Meanwhile, Messi and his teammates are preparing for Sunday night’s El Clasico. With just two wins in their past five games and dumped out of the Champions League at the quarter-final stage for the second year running, their season is in danger of fizzling out. Defeat to Real will leave them with just the Copa del Rey to play for.
Although Messi is La Liga’s top scorer this season with 29 goals, he has not netted in his past six appearances against Real, dating back to his 2014 hat-trick at the Bernabeu. In the same period, the Portuguese has scored three in five Clasicos.
In the absence of the suspended Neymar, the focus on Messi will be even more intense. The Argentine will need to be at his brilliant best if Barca are to overcome Zinedine Zidane’s in-form side, who are unbeaten in their last 12.
Barca, who trail Real by three points having played a game more, are under even more pressure than usual after Wednesday’s Champions League elimination by Juventus.
The sight of Messi flat out with blood gushing from his face after a heavy tackle from Miralem Pjanic seemed to sum up his club’s recent fortunes.
Barca lacked the hunger, fight or determination to break down a stubborn opponent.
What perhaps was most striking as they meekly exited Europe was that even the mercurial Argentine appeared drained of his superpowers against a resilient backline. He was bullied, harangued and harried out of the game by the Italians.