Lionel Messi received at least £2.4million in cash for supporting one of the most corrupt dictators in Africa, it was claimed on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old football superstar caused outrage at the weekend when he arrived in Gabon, the former French colony, as a guest of president Ali Bongo.
Wearing Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt, and showing off his new tattoos, Messi was officially laying the foundation stones for a new stadium in the city of Port-Gentil.
But the Barcelona and Argentina striker, who is facing trial for tax fraud in Spain, also helped with the opening of a new Bongo family restaurant, and showed full support for their regime.
‘People are outraged about this,’ said an opposition source in the country, which is regularly linked with corruption and human rights abuses. ‘Messi should do a bit of research into what Bongo represents.’
French media reported that Messi was paid the equivalent of £2.4m for the trip, which he took with his former Barcelona team-mate Deco.
A report in France Football reads: ‘The little African trip should bring in around 3.5 million euros. Not bad!’
However Bongo attempted to explain Messi’s appearance. He said: ‘When I was in Barcelona a few years ago, I met Messi who had told me that he would come to visit me in Libreville.
‘It’s a promise he made me. He is a man of honour who just kept his word.’
Police in France regularly investigate allegations of corruption against the Bongo family, who are said to own up to 39 homes across the country, including in Paris.
Ali Bongo Ondimba, the current leader of Gabon is accused of plundering the nation’s coffers for his personal use, and also of having committed electoral fraud to remain in power.
A report by the PowerIndex research organisation reads: ‘The Bongo family is alleged to have skimmed off 25 percent of the oil-rich nation’s gross domestic product over the years, and Omar was said to one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state.
‘In 1999, a US Senate investigation discovered 130 million dollars in his personal bank accounts at Citibank, sourced from Gabon’s public finances.
Authorities at the Barcelona High Court believe there is evidence that Messi benefited from a complex network of companies that kept some £3m pounds from Spanish tax authorities between 2007 and 2009.
The authorities have accused Messi’s father, Jorge Horacio Messi, of selling the footballer’s image rights using shell companies in Uruguay, Belize, Switzerland and the UK to avoid reporting earnings in Spain. Both Messi and his father have denied any wrongdoing.

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