Messi's foundation stone for Gabon's Africa Cup vanishes

LIBREVILLE: Foundation stones laid for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations stadium in Gabon by Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi and President Ali Bongo Ondimba have gone missing, a daily newspaper said Friday.

"Where are ... the prints of Lionel Messi?" L'Union asked in a headline. With the two stones now missing, "the prints these two personalities left at the scene have been removed," added the daily.

Last Saturday, the four-time World Player of the Year joined Bongo in a widely challenged trip to the southern oil town of Port-Gentil to lay the first stones of the stadium for the contest Gabon will host in two years' time.

"As soon as the theft was noticed (on Sunday) provincial authorities called in security forces to try to shed light on the situation," the paper said, adding that a call for witnesses has been issued.

Investigators "have no leads for now", the report said.

Messi's trip to the equatorial African nation had caused a major stir on social media, with many Gabonese questioning the cost of the visit to the oil-rich country where over a third of the population lives below the poverty line.

The influential "France Football" further fed the controversy Monday by alleging the Barcelona star had received 3.5 million euros ($3.8 million) for the trip, a claim denied by Gabonese authorities.

"The Republic of Gabon denies having paid, or even promised to pay, such a sum of money to the Argentinian international footballer Lionel Messi," the presidency said in a statement.