Gheorghe Hagi will not attend Romania’s international matches out of support for his former team-mate Gheorghe 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. “I’ll only watch them on TV as a form of protest.”

The court found Popescu and seven other people connected to the game guilty of damaging the state for registering false sums with the tax authorities for the transfers of 12 players between 1999 and 2005. Popescu was sentenced to three years and one month in prison.

On Thursday, Hagi and some of his Romania team-mates visited Popescu to express their solidarity and present their best wishes for his 47th birthday.

“He was very happy when he saw us,” the 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.”

Until his conviction, Popescu was among the favourites to become president of the domestic football federation in March.