Barcelona's Lionel Messi to pay fine, avoid prison sentence for tax fraud
Prosecutors in Spain say they are happy for Lionel Messi's 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud to be replaced with a fine, a spokeswoman confirmed on Friday.
They said they are not opposed to the Barcelona star being fined €400 per day -- a total fine of around €255,500 -- for the duration of the sentence, an option also put forward by the player's defence team.
Messi's father, whose sentence was reduced to 15 months upon appeal, could also see the original punishment exchanged for a fine of around €180,000.
In line with what prosecutors proposed, a judge will now make the final decision.
After learning of the possible changes to Messi's sentence, Barcelona vice president Carles Vilarrubi questioned the timing of the decision in relation to the accusations of tax fraud against Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo.
He insinuated that Messi's tax case was unfairly dragged out for years but then quickly resolved this week so that La Liga's two star players would not be under investigation at the same time.
"I find it difficult to imagine that this would have happened had there not been a similar problem with another player," he told RAC1, alluding to the Portugal international.
"All of the developments that are taking place right now and that will take place in the coming days are going in a very clear direction: so that Cristiano Ronaldo does not sit in the dock.
"They don't want there to be a photo of Ronaldo in the dock, but Messi did have to go through that."
Messi and his father were both found guilty of three counts of tax fraud totalling €4.7 million last year. In addition to their sentences, they were ordered to pay fines of €2m and €1.5m, respectively.
They were found to have used tax havens in Belize and Uruguay as well as shell companies in the U.K. and Switzerland to avoid paying taxes on earnings from Messi's image rights between 2007 and 2009.
Last week, Spanish prosecutors accused Madrid forward Ronaldo of defrauding Spain's tax office of €14.7m in unpaid taxes by hiding "income generated in Spain from image rights."
Ronaldo has been called to give evidence in the case against him in court on July 31, but some reports in Spain have said he will strike a deal with prosecutors before then by paying the €14.7m.
However, sources close to the player told ESPN FC on Thursday that there are no plans to pay the money because they feel Ronaldo is innocent.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.