Mascherano gets 1 year's jail but won't serve time

BARCELONA • Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano accepted a one-year prison sentence for tax evasion on Thursday as part of a plea bargain, Spanish media reported, although the footballer is unlikely to serve time in jail.

The 31-year-old Argentina international, who joined Barca in August 2010, pleaded guilty last year to defrauding the Spanish tax authorities of more than €1.5 million (S$2.32 million) by concealing earnings from his image rights using companies set up in the United States and Portugal.

The plea agreed between the former Liverpool midfielder's lawyers and the public prosecutor in December was formally processed in a hearing that lasted barely 10 minutes on Thursday.

He agreed to pay a fine of €800,000 and cover the legal costs, the newspaper El Pais reported.

Sentences shorter than two years are usually not enforced in Spain.

Mascherano also paid back the unpaid tax and almost €200,000 in interest.

In a tweet, he acknowledged the plea bargain and said he reserved the right to take legal action against those who had given him poor advice on his personal finances.

He released a statement via his Twitter account and the Barcelona website in which he said: "I'm very relieved to know I am back in line.

"I'm a sporting professional, I don't have a great understanding of tax and legal matters.

"Therefore, to deal with what are for me technical and complicated matters, I have to rely on other people.

"Throughout all my career, I have been an honest person, responsible and respectful of my team-mates and the clubs that I have played for and the countries I have lived in.

"I reserve the possibility of action against those who have badly advised me by recommending something that was not right."

Mascherano is far from the only Barcelona player in trouble with the law at present.

His international and club team-mate Lionel Messi is set to face trial along with his father Jorge on May 31 for defrauding the Spanish tax office of €4.1 million. Both have denied the accusations, and are blaming a former financial adviser.

Meanwhile, Brazil captain Neymar is set to testify in the Spanish national court next month in an investigation into irregularities in his 2013 transfer from Santos to Barcelona.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Mascherano gets 1 year's jail but won't serve time'. Print Edition | Subscribe