Football: Hagi boycotts Romania games in solidarity with jailed Popescu

(REUTERS) - Former Romania midfielder Gheorghe Hagi says he will not attend national team matches in solidarity with his former team-mate Gheorghe "Gica" Popescu, who was jailed for tax evasion and money laundering in March.

"I'll not go to the national team matches while Gica Popescu is behind bars," Hagi told local media on Thursday, adding that the local football authorities did little to help the former Romania captain. "I'll only watch them on TV as a form of protest."

The court found Popescu and seven other football-related people guilty of damaging the state with 1.7 million euros (S$2.8 million) in unpaid taxes, while several clubs lost 10 million euros because the officials registered false sums for the transfers of 12 players between 1999 and 2005.

On Thursday, Hagi and some of his Romania team-mates visited Popescu to express their support and present their best wishes for his 47th birthday. Popescu was sentenced to three years and one month in prison. "He was very happy when he saw us," former Romania defender Daniel Prodan said.

"It was a very pleasant surprise for him. We wanted to let him know that we've not forgotten him and that we are with him."

Popescu, named player of the year in Romania six times, was among the favourites to become president of the domestic football federation in March.

In a career that included spells at PSV Eindhoven, Tottenham Hotspur, Barcelona and Galatasaray, he was capped 115 times.