The Beija-Flor samba group has been declared the champion of Rio de Janeiro's hotly contested Carnival parade competition.

The group stoked controversy by staging a presentation focusing on Equatorial Guinea, run by Africa's longest-ruling dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.

The O Globo newspaper reported last week the samba group had received $3.5 million from Equatorial Guinea's government.

But officials from Beija-Flor, the Portuguese word for "hummingbird," would only say they received unspecified "cultural and artistic support."

Rio's samba parade competition among the top 12 groups is hotly contested and closely followed in the country, where the two nights of parades are broadcast live. Judges gave each school a rating in nine categories, announced Wednesday.

There is no cash prize for first place — just a trophy and bragging rights.