By Tony Attwood
In a recent article I asked if there was no end to the criminal behaviour of people associated with FC Barcelona and some other clubs.
The answer of course is no, there is no end. Today we hear that Lionel Messi has been sentenced to 21 months in prison after the Catalonia Court found him guilty of three counts of tax fraud. It was so predictable that hardly an eyebrow was raised.
Messi, who constantly blamed his father during the case, saying he was the one who did all the money laundering (sorry financial arrangements), will perhaps be little comforted by the fact that his dad also got 21 months in prison for the same three crimes.
The sentence can be appealed through the Spanish supreme court, and indeed under Spanish law all prison sentences under two years (which it most conveniently is by three months) can be served on probation. So if Messi can keep his hands off the dodgy money for 21 months neither party is likely to go to prison.
Messi also has to pay a fine of around 2 million euros (as I write this about £1.7million but probably closer to £3m by the time you read this, given the state of the British economy today). His father hsa to pay 1.5 million euros for the crimes.
Messi denied any knowledge of any wrong doing, and I am not sure how that plays with a Spanish court. In England it doesn’t usually wash, since the courts tend to argue that we all have a duty to ensure that our advisers and those who act on our behalf are behaving legally.
Behind Messi there was a complex series of companies in dubious tax havens around the world such as Panama, which held the finances from Messi’s image rights as then wended their way to final, equally dubious, destinations.
Interestingly although many papers have looked at Messi’s financial matters few have ever raised the issue as to why Messi and co might feel it necessary to avoid tax, when a) the tax regime in Spain is fairly modest and b) he earns such a phenomenal amount of money any way.
Or indeed why there are so many criminal legal cases surrounding Barcelona.
Interestingly however for those of us in the UK, Mr Messi was asked in court if he knew that the money he was moving around passed through Britain on its way to Belize and Uruguay. This is interesting because recently journalist Roberto Saviano, who is highly regarded as a man who has written exposés of the Mafia stated in a speech, “If I asked you what is the most corrupt place on Earth you might tell me well it’s Afghanistan, maybe Greece, Nigeria, the South of Italy and I will tell you it’s the UK.
“It’s not the bureaucracy, it’s not the police, it’s not the politics but what is corrupt is the financial capital. 90 per cent of the owners of capital in London have their headquarters offshore.
“Jersey and the Cayman’s are the access gates to criminal capital in Europe and the UK is the country that allows it.”
The Independent expanded on the theme commenting that, “Many of the criminal corporate activities within the City of London which have dominated the headlines over the past decade are not classified as corruption by Transparency International.
“Instead, the media and financial regulators refer to these institutionalised corporate crimes as “inappropriate conduct” or “mis-selling”.”
So it would be nice to think that the UK government will now start searching for what happened to the Messi funds as they moved through England, but I suspect not.
Messi however was unmoved. “I knew we signed agreements with various sponsors who paid x amount of money, and that I had to do adverts, photographs and all that stuff. But I had no idea where the money was going.”
Prosecutors in the Messi case showed that Belize and Uruguay were used to conceal earnings from image rights.
But none of this will stop Messi playing in the Premier League if he wants to since all he has to do is obtain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE) based on a player’s sporting ability. This is then given to the Football Association who approves the application on behalf of the Home Office. Since the FA has been shown repeatedly to be financially inept, and itself gets through vast amounts of government (ie tax-payers’) money each year, spending it on whatever it feels like (largely known corrupt organisations like Fifa), it is unlikely they will raise any concerns.
Normally criminal offences which result in a prison sentence of more than one year will result in an application being automatically rejected, but it is hard to see the FA standing up to anything or anyone if a loophole can be found. Or created. Or invented.
So Messi now joins the Barcelona mainstream of fraudsters, along with Neymar (fined round about £40m by a Brazilian court for tax evasion, and Javier Mascherano (with a 12-month prison sentence for tax avoidance).
It seems Barcelona are impervious to the law as it applies to normal people, and those who endlessly support or promote the club are of course endlessly encouraging them to get away with it.
- The 12 Arsenal transfers making the news and at least one of them is actually true! Plus press turn on Mourinho!!
- Arsenal addition to the first team will be chosen from this shortlist revealed today.
- The EC takes on Barcelona (yet again), this time with Real Madrid. Is there no end to their criminal behaviour?