Messi tax fraud sentence reduced to fine

Barcelona's football star Lionel Messi (L) and his father Jorge Horacio Messi listening as they face judges in a tax fraud case at the courthouse in Barcelona. (AFP)
Updated 07 July 2017

Messi tax fraud sentence reduced to fine

BARCELONA: A Spanish court said Friday it had replaced Barcelona star Lionel Messi’s prison sentences for tax fraud with fines.
The Argentine, one of the world’s best-paid players, and his father had been convicted of hiding image rights royalties in offshore accounts and had been given jail terms of 21 and 15 months respectively.
Following the ruling by Barcelona’s provincial court, Messi will instead pay €252,000($287,000) and his father €180,000 in fines.
The fines correspond to €400 for each day the two men were sentenced to jail.
Under the original sentence, neither Messi or his father would have been likely to serve time behind bars, because in Spain first offenders for non-violent crimes are spared jail time for sentences of less than two years.
The two were in July 2016 found guilty of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying €4.1 million in taxes on income Messi earned from his image rights from 2007-09.
The income relates to the five-time world player of the year’s endorsement deals, including with Danone, Adidas, Pepsi-Cola, Procter & Gamble and the Kuwait Food Company.
The player and his father made a voluntary payment of €5 million — equal to the amount of the alleged unpaid taxes plus interest — in August 2013 after being formally investigated.
They were also fined around €3.5 million when they were convicted for tax fraud.
The Barcelona court said it took these payments into account when deciding to exchange their prison sentences for new fines.
“This made them both deserving of having the prison sentence substituted by a fine,” the court said in a ruling released on Friday.
Spanish prosecutors last month said they did not oppose the changes to the sentences. They had asked during last year’s trial for Messi to be absolved, arguing there was no evidence that the player was aware of how his income was managed.
During the trial, Messi had argued that he trusted his father with his finances and “knew nothing” about how his wealth was managed.
The court ruling caps off a golden week for Messi, who on Wednesday extended his contract with Barcelona until June 2021, just days after he married his childhood sweetheart in Argentina.
The club did not give financial details but club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said Messi was now the best-paid player in the world.
“He is the best player in the world and he is paid like the best in the world and in the history of football,” Bartomeu said Wednesday.
Prior to his contract extension, Messi was the world’s third-highest paid sportsman with an income of $80 million, of which $53 million was in salary and bonuses, according to a list published by Forbes magazine in June.
Messi is not the only footballer to run into problems with Spain’s courts, with Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo the latest to have been summoned to appear before a judge investigating tax fraud.
He is due to be questioned on July 31 on suspicion of evading €14.7 million in taxes.
Brazil star and Barcelona forward Neymar and his parents are due to stand trial for alleged corruption over his transfer from Santos in 2013.
Barca’s Argentine defender Javier Mascherano also agreed a one-year suspended sentence with authorities for tax fraud last year, while Manchester United Manager Jose Mourinho was last month accused of committing tax fraud by Spanish prosecutors in 2011 and 2012, when he was in charge at Real Madrid.
And former Barcelona president Sandro Rosell was arrested in May in a money laundering investigation related to the sale of the Brazilian national team’s television rights.


Djokovic survives scare as rain causes chaos at Australian Open

Updated 20 January 2020

Djokovic survives scare as rain causes chaos at Australian Open

  • World No. 3 Federer was briefly hauled off court while the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena

MELBOURNE: Novak Djokovic survived a scare to join Roger Federer and Serena Williams in the Australian Open second round as heavy downpours caused chaos on Monday, forcing organizers to postpone a swathe of matches.

Defending champion Djokovic was made to sweat before beating Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff in four sets on the first day, when fears over air pollution were replaced by disruption caused by rain.

In the late match, defending champion Djokovic dropped his first set since 2006 in the opening round before recovering to beat Jan-Lennard Struff 7-6 (7/5), 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.

“There is a lot of pressure and a lot of different emotions involved. I definitely try to remind myself to stay present and really enjoy,” said the seven-time Melbourne winner, who brought up his 900th Tour-level victory.

While play continued at the three stadiums with retractable roofs, half of the 64 scheduled matches were postponed, ensuring a big backlog for Tuesday.

Wet conditions are unusual for the Australian Open, which is more used to extreme heat and was plagued by smog from bushfires during qualifying, when players suffered coughing fits and breathing problems.

Air quality was rated “good” as the first round started on Monday but about four hours later play was suspended on outside courts when the heavens opened in Melbourne.

World No. 3 Federer was briefly hauled off court while the roof was closed on Rod Laver Arena before returning to complete a routine 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over American Steve Johnson.

Williams, on the hunt for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title, won the first set against Anastasia Potapova in just 19 minutes as she cruised to a 6-0, 6-3 win in less than an hour.

“I feel like I can still improve and get better throughout this tournament, for sure. This is a good stepping stone for right now,” Williams said.

However, Williams’ elder sister Venus was ousted in stunning fashion by 15-year-old Coco Gauff, who won 7-6 (7/5), 6-3 in a repeat of her first-round upset at Wimbledon last year.

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens was the biggest women’s casualty on day one when she crashed out in three sets to Zhang Shuai of China — her fourth first-round exit in Melbourne.

Defending champion Naomi Osaka was done well before the downpour as she dismissed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 6-4 in 80 minutes, smashing one powerful serve that broke a net fastening.

“It was really tough for me trying to control my nerves,” said Osaka. “It’s tough to play someone you’ve never played before in the first round of a Grand Slam.”

Later on the covered center court, Australian world number one Ashleigh Barty recovered strongly from a set down to beat Lesia Tsurenko 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.

In the men’s draw, Greek sixth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, who beat Federer en route to last year’s semis, crushed Salvatore Caruso 6-0, 6-2, 6-3.

Player anger over smog dominated the final days before the tournament, which is taking place after bushfires ravaged large parts of Australia, destroying thousands of homes and killing 29 people.

Tournament officials are closely monitoring pollution and will halt play and close the three main stadiums’ roofs if particulate matter suspended in the air hits PM2.5 200.

In other results, Canadian 13th seed Denis Shapovalov argued furiously with the umpire over a code violation for throwing his racquet as he lost in four sets to Marton Fucsovics.

Croatian 25th seed Borna Coric was another first-round loser as he went down to experienced American Sam Querrey, while Australia’s Sam Stosur bombed out against Caty McNally.

But former champion Caroline Wozniacki, playing her last tournament before retiring, safely reached the second round as she beat Kristie Ahn 6-1, 6-3.