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20 Jun, 2022 15:58

Barcelona legend hit with tax fraud sentence

Samuel Eto'o was found guilty of concealing over $4 million while playing in Spain
Barcelona legend hit with tax fraud sentence

African football icon Samuel Eto'o managed to escape prison on Monday after being sentenced to 22 months behind bars in relation to tax fraud of around $4 million when playing for FC Barcelona in the mid-to-late 2000s in Spain.

The now-41-year-old hit his peak for the Blaugrana between 2006 and 2009 when he won two La Liga titles and two Champions League trophies for the Catalan club.

Over the same period, however, he failed to declare income from the transfer of his image rights between personal sponsor Puma and Barca.

Instead, he paid taxes via two separate firms set up in Spain and Hungry which limited costs, according to MARCA, and Eto'o blamed his agent Jose Maria Mesalles for the "manipulation" in a Barcelona criminal court on Monday while vowing to pay back what he owed. 

Eto'o, who is currently the president of the Cameroonian Football Federation, explained that Mesalles was a father figure to him. 

"It was my father who took care of the child I was then," Eto’o said in a statement.

"I’m going to pay but I’ve always done what my father told me I had to do."

The prosecution sought sentences of four years and six months for Eto'o and Mensalles, which if granted would have seen them behind bars.

With Eto'o's jail time reduced to 22 months, however, and Mesalles' 12 months, their sentences have been suspended as is common in Spain when sentences of two years or less are handed to those with previously clean criminal records.

Eto'o, who also spent part of his career at Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala, acknowledged having defrauded over defrauded €3.8 million ($4.1 million) in total from the Spanish Public Treasury between 2006 and 2009.

On top of the taxes he owes, he will have to pay a further €1,810,310 million ($1.908 million) in total across four fines while Mesalles was ordered to part with €905,155 ($954,000).

Simultaneously, Eto'o has filed a lawsuit against Mesalles for alleged fraud and misappropriation of assets which is still being investigated. 

Before admitting to the facts, Mesalles preferred not to testify as a third defendant, Jesus Lastre, who was the administrator of one of the companies Eto'o use to commit fraud, was acquitted. 

Spending five years at Camp Nou from 2004 to 2009, Eto'o is fondly remembered by Barca fans and formed part of two golden eras at the club in playing alongside Ronaldinho under Frank Rijkaard and then a young Lionel Messi on Pep Guardola's watch.

The highlight of his career was perhaps scoring against Manchester United in the 2008-2009 Champions League final, and Eto'o retired in 2019 considered one of the best strikers of his generation with 371 goals in 764 club appearances, plus 56 goals in 118 international matches for Cameroon.

Through being convicted of tax fraud, Eto'o joins a long list of La Liga stars to have been pulled up by Spanish authorities in this regard including Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo