Barcelona have pledged their full support for Lionel Messi and his father in an official statement, following the duo being found guilty of tax fraud. The club insist the player has no "criminal responsibilities", and they will back him up in any potential appeal of the sentence.
On Wednesday 7 June, the Barcelona high court handed a 21-month prison sentence to both Messi and his father, following their alleged attempts to avoid €4.1m (£3.5m, $4.5m) in tax on earnings, using off-shore companies located in Belize and Uruguay between 2007 and 2009.
Messi and his father paid the Spanish authorities a voluntary corrective payment of around €5m after being formally charged in 2013.
The Barcelona star appeared in court on 2 June to deny any knowledge of the accusations laid against him, claiming he signed documents without reading them as he trusted his father and the lawyers responsible for managing his finances.
The government prosecution service asked for the absolution of the player, but state lawyers decided to continue the case by requesting a prison sentence – which has now been handed down. The pair may appeal the conviction, despite them not being expected to serve any time in jail. Spanish statutes for non-violent crimes do not require incarceration for sentences under two years.
Whatever the outcome, Barcelona have declared their intentions to support Messi and his father in any decision they make.
"The club, in agreement with the criteria expressed by the government prosecution service, considers the player to be free of criminal liability," Barcelona said via an official statement.
"FC Barcelona gives all its support to Leo Messi and his father with relation to the sentence for tax evasion handed out by the Provincial Court in Barcelona today. The club, in agreement with the government prosecution service, considers that the player, who has corrected his position with the Spanish Tax Office, is in no way criminally responsible with regards to the facts underlined in this case."
"FC Barcelona continues to be at the disposal of Leo Messi and his family to support him in whatever action he decides to take in defence of his honesty and his legal interests."