Local football legend Ricardo Manetti was yesterday one of the many who came out to sympathise with one of the world’s most adored football icons, Lionel Messi, who was yesterday found guilty of tax fraud and sentenced to 21 months in jail, along with his father, Jorge Horacio Messi.
Messi, who was found guilty by a Barcelona court – along with his father – of using companies in Belize, Britain, Switzerland and Uruguay to avoid paying taxes of about 4.16 million euros of income earned from Messi’s image rights from 2007-9, was given a suspended prison sentence of 21 months and ordered to pay a fine of 3.7 million euros.
A suspended prison sentence in legal terms means a judge has delayed the defendant being sent to prison after they have been found guilty, on the grounds that he not make himself guilty of the same crime during the period of his sentence.
As in most criminal cases – especially for first-time offenders like Messi who is involved in non-violent crimes that carry a sentence of less than two years – a trial judge reserves the right to suspend/postpone the sentencing of a convicted person. The judge must first pronounce a penalty of a fine or imprisonment, or both, and then suspend the implementation of the prison sentence.
In summary, there are two types of suspended sentences – a judge may unconditionally discharge the defendant of all obligations and restraints. An unconditionally suspended sentence ends the court system’s involvement in the matter and the defendant has no penalty to pay.
However, the defendant’s criminal conviction will remain part of the public record. The other scenario is that a judge may also issue a conditionally suspended sentence. This type of sentence withholds execution of the penalty for as long as the defendant exhibits good behaviour.
The Barcelona star yesterday told the court he trusted his father with his finances and “knew nothing” about how his wealth was managed. Messi’s father has been managing his son’s affairs since he was a child.
Registering his empathy was Brave Warriors mentor Ricardo Mannetti, who said such cases are not unique to football, especially when you are a megastar, such as Messi, but was however quick to caution people not to get their facts twisted.
“Obviously it’s not good news to any football-loving person, as the Lionel Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos are the faces of modern football and aspiring footballers and the entire global football fraternity looks up to them. But what I want to make clear here is that what has been affected by the tax fraud news is the ‘Messi brand’ and not necessarily Messi, the player on the field – although the two are partially linked.”
“What that means is that the tax fraud activities, which have to do with his image, which is the ‘Messi brand’ I spoke of, happened off the pitch and in his personal capacity as the image holder of the Messi brand, so on that note I believe the news won’t have much impact on the Barcelona Messi we see on the field of play, but will perhaps comprise his name, which is the ‘Messi brand’ when it comes to sponsorship deals and so forth,” the former Brave Warriors box-to-box midfielder explained.