Argentine and Barcelona FC striker, Lionel Messi has come under heavy criticism following his controversial visit to Gabon last week where he performed a stone-laying ceremony at the Port-Gentil stadium in exchange for a fee of £2.4 million.
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 Ondimba. Wearing Bermuda shorts and a T-shirt, and showing off his new tattoos, Messi was officially laying the foundation stone for a new stadium in the city of Port-Gentil.
Messi who is still locked up in a tax fraud trial in Spain, also helped with the opening of a new Bongo family restaurant, and showed full support for the regime.
Although, the Gabonese president, Ali Bongo claims Messi’s foundation laying trip was in fulfilment of a personal promise, reports that emerged from France on Tuesday claims the Barcelona star was paid £2.4 million, an allegation many view as dent on the treble-winning Messi. “The little African trip should bring in around 3.5 million euros (£2.4million). Not bad!,” the report claimed.
President Bongo had earlier explained that Messi’s appearance at the block-laying ceremony was a mere gratis: “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,” Bongo claimed.
However, critics view the explanation as hogwash: “Messi cannot claim that his visit to Gabon was a charity work or something done in connection with any of the world’s organizations. It’s purely a private business deal which in a way show how greedy he is,” Mr. Kayode Olufemi, a football analyst said. “People are obviously critical of that foundation laying saga because Ali Bongo has been linked to corruption and human rights abuses while Messi and his father are facing tax fraud case in Spain,” added Mr. Chuks Okonkwo.
Ali Bongo’s Corruption profile
Ali Bongo Ondimba, the current President of Gabon has been accused of plundering the nation’s coffers for his personal use, and also of having committed electoral fraud to remain in power.
Reports say French Police regularly investigate allegations of corruption against the Bongo family, who are said to own up to 39 homes across the country, including in Paris.
A recent report produced by Power Index research organisation on the activities of the Gabonese ruling family alleged that the Bongos have skimmed off 25 percent of the oil-rich nation’s gross domestic product over the years, making Omar one of the world’s wealthiest heads of state.
The report read in part: “In 1999, a US Senate investigation discovered 130 million dollars in his personal bank accounts at Citibank, sourced from Gabon’s public finances.
‘A French investigation into Elf Aquitaine was told that Omar received 50 million euros a year from the oil company. Other inquiries turned up fleets of Ferraris, Lamborghinis and limousines in France, along with huge real estate holdings.’
The CIA/World Factbook states that Gabon’s per capita income is four times that of most sub-Saharan African nations, but a large portion of the population remains poor due to huge income inequality.
The World Bank said almost one-third of Gabonese live at or below the poverty line.
Messi’s financial mess
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. The prosecution is still underway before the latest cash-for-show saga.
By Olisemeka Obeche