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BREAKING: Lionel Messi given 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud.

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The Argentina and Barcelona star was sentenced to 21 months in jail when he appeared in court this morning, according to Spanish media. 

The £256,000-a-week star was also fined £1.7 million – six seeks’ wages – by a court in Barcelona. 

Superstar Messi, considered the world’s best player, was tried alongside his father Jorge after defrauding Spain’s tax authority of 4.1m euros (£3.19m) from 2007-09. 

During the trial, prosecutors said tax havens in Belize and Uruguay were used to conceal huge earnings from his lucrative image rights.

His father, Jorge Messi, was also given a jail term for defrauding Spain of €4.1m (£3.5m; $4.5m) between 2007 and 2009.

They also face millions of euros in fines for using tax havens in Belize and Uruguay used to conceal earnings from image rights.

However, they are likely to avoid jail.

Under the Spanish system, prison terms under two years can be served under probation.

The footballer and his father were found guilty of three counts of tax fraud in Wednesday’s ruling by the court in Barcelona.

During the trial, Lionel Messi claimed he “knew nothing” about the management of his financial affairs, saying he was “playing football”.

Government prosecutor Mario Maza told the court the pair could not prove their innocence and were not able to show that the player did not have at least some knowledge of the corporate structures created to lower his tax burden in Spain.

He that in particular the player “knew more than he made it appear in court”, adding that both men had “showed no credibility”.

But despite being handed the prison sentence it is unlikely either of them will serve any time behind bars, because the punishment is set to be suspended. 

A jail term of under two years in duration usually results in a period of probation under Spanish law, meaning the fleet-footed attacker will only spend time inside if he commits another crime during the next two years. 

The news immediately sparked a flurry of memes on social media predicting the reaction of Real Madrid star Cristiano Ronaldo – a long-time rival of Messi for the tag of world’s greatest player. 

And sports journalist Tancredi Palmeri sardonically noticed that Messi’s sentence marked “another thing in common” between him and Argentina great Maradonna, to whom he is so often compared. 

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