Lionel Messi Walks Free Despite Tax Fraud Conviction

July 6, 2016, 12:18 PM UTC

International appeal: Lionel Messi

It's difficult to become much of a star in the U.S. when you play for a European soccer team. Then again, the one person to have done it successfully is still a name that comes to mind instantly: a pre-MLS David Beckham. This year, a new foreign footballer emerged who could potentially follow in Beckham's ad-happy footsteps: Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona. "I think he's starting to break through the clutter as a recognizable star," theorizes Perlman. "Also, kids are starting to watch more international soccer, and those matches are getting more coverage in the media and on ESPN top ten plays. I think casual sports fans know who he is now." Perhaps a clever recent ad for Turkish Airlines—in which Messi faces off against Kobe Bryant (one of the most successful global names) for a young kid's affection—has helped. Then again, Americans are unlikely to give much new business to Turkish Airlines off that one ad. They are, however, likely to learn who Messi is, if they didn't know. He has many deals with big brands like Adidas, PepsiCo, Dolce & Gabanna and EA, but they haven't brought him too much exposure in the U.S. so far. Expect that to change in 2013. Dorfman calls Messi "a sleeper pick."
Photo: LLUIS GENE/AFP/Getty Images

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By Sarah Begley @SCBegley

Soccer superstar Lionel Messi and his father have each been handed 21-month jail sentences for tax fraud by a Spanish court, but they’re unlikely to spend any time behind bars.

Messi and his father, Jorge Horacio Messi, were both found guilty of defrauding Spain of 4.1 million euros ($4.5 million) between 2007 and 2009, BBC News reports. In addition to prison sentences for each, they have been fined millions of euros.

But because Spanish regulations allow prison terms of less than two years to be suspended, neither man is likely to serve time, the Associated Press reports.

Messi has said he “knew nothing” about how his finances were being handled, and that he signed documents his father and advisors gave him without reading them. His father has also denied willful wrongdoing, ESPN reports.

Ignorance isn’t usually accepted as a defense by courts in Spain or anywhere else, a fact that has prompted allegations of undue lenience towards the star.