Barcelona stand by Lionel Messi after appeal against tax fraud sentence is rejected
Lionel Messi retains the full support of his club Barcelona after his appeal against a 21-month prison sentence for tax fraud was rejected by the Spanish supreme court on Wednesday.
In July 2016 the 29-year-old Argentinian and his father Jorge were found guilty on three counts of defrauding the tax department to the tune of 4.1million euros (£3.5million).
The pair took their appeals to the supreme court but the striker's sentence has been confirmed and he must also pay a 2.1million euro (£1.8m) fine.
However, Jorge Messi's sentence has been reduced to 15 months as his attempts to "repair the damage" by returning the defrauded money to tax authorities were taken into consideration.
Neither man is likely serve any time in prison as, under Spanish law, sentences under two years are usually suspended.
Barcelona, who following the original verdict urged their fans to "express their sympathy" for Messi, released a statement on their official website which read: "The club reiterates, once again, its full support for Leo Messi, his father Jorge Messi, and his family.
"This afternoon, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu contacted the player's family to communicate this support. The family was very grateful, not only for the gesture, but also for the support the player and his family have received from the club throughout this process.
"The club will continue to stand with Leo Messi, his father, and his family."
The case relates to a scheme to avoid paying tax on Messi's image rights. The disputed tax payments date back to a period from 2007 to 2009, a time when the Argentinian helped to transform Barcelona into the world's best team.
Messi joined the club's academy in 2000, aged 13, and his family joined him in Spain soon after. He made his competitive debut in 2004, at 17, and has now scored 506 goals in 582 appearances, winning five Ballon d'Or trophies along the way.
With Barcelona, he has won eight LaLiga titles and the Champions League four times.