Media reports in France have alleged that Barcelona's Lionel Messi received at least 3.5 million euros (S$5 million) for visiting the African state of Gabon as a guest of its president, Mr Ali Bongo Ondimba.
Wearing bermudas and a T-shirt, and showing off his new tattoos, the 28-year-old Argentinian superstar laid the foundation stones for a new stadium in the city of Port-Gentil, which will be one of the venues for the 2017 African Nations Cup, the Mail Online reported France Football - a reputable bi-weekly magazine in Europe - alleged that he and his former Barcelona teammate Deco were paid millions for the visit.
A report read: "The little African trip should bring in around 3.5 million euros. Not bad!"
Messi, who is facing trial for tax fraud in Spain, also helped with the inauguration of a new restaurant belonging to the Bongo family. But the Gabonese government denied the allegations, The Guardian reported.
A statement from the Gabon embassy in France said: "The Republic of Gabon strongly denies having transferred or having promised to transfer any sum of money to the Argentine international football player Lionel Messi..."
Messi was also criticised for showing his support for Mr Bongo, the controversial Gabonese leader, who has been accused of committing electoral fraud and human rights abuses.
"People are outraged about this," the Mail Online quoted an opposition source in the country as saying. "Messi should do a bit of research into what Bongo represents."
Meanwhile, Mr Bongo attempted to explain Messi's appearance: "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 (the capital).
"It's a promise he made me."
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.
This article was first published on July 23, 2015.
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