Atletico Madrid director Jose Luis Perez Caminero

A Spanish judge has ordered proceedings against a director of the Atletico Madrid soccer team and a former Spain international for allegedly laundering money on behalf of drug traffickers from Mexico and Colombia, more evidence of long standing links between soccer and organized crime.

According to the case prosecutor, Jose Luis Perez Caminero, a former player and current director of Atletico Madrid, maintained "constant contact" with one of the leaders of a money laundering structure that changed small banknotes from drug trafficking proceeds into larger bills. He allegedly agreed in March 2009 to change more than $200,000. He was then arrested with nearly $80,000 cash in his car, but later released.

The prosecutor has now ordered proceedings against Caminero and all suspected members of the network. He is thought to be among 14 members who used their bank or notary contacts in Madrid and Valladolid to launder money delivered by Colombian and Mexican drug traffickers to a Madrid jewelry store, reported El Mundo.

In total, three interlinking structures were dismantled by Spanish authorities -- the first, the Mexicans, were responsible for supplying the cocaine, the second, the Colombians, for distributing it, and the third, the Spaniards, for laundering proceeds.

Caminero could face four years in prison and a $5 million fine if convicted of the charges.

InSight Crime Analysis

The case is notable both for its size and transcontinental scope -- the Mexican side of the network alone is believed to have laundered over $80 million over the course of the operation -- and for the prominence of Caminero, who was once one of Spain's top soccer players.

It is also another example of the ties between soccer and drug trafficking, which began with Colombian drug traffickers investing in soccer teams as a status symbol in the 1980s, but have since evolved to allow criminals to profit directly from the sport.

Clubs are now used as money laundering fronts as in the case of a prominent Colombian landowner who was arrested in Argentina in 2010 after an investigation into the finances of Bogota soccer club Santa Fe showed links to Luis Agustin Caicedo Velandia, alias "Don Lucho," and the Norte de Valle Cartel.

More recently criminals have begun to take advantage of opportunities offered by the players themselves. In November this year, an Argentine soccer player came under investigation on suspicions his registration was partly owned by a local drug gang, while in El Salvador, 22 soccer players were recently implicated in a match-fixing ring led by a Singaporean criminal.

Investigations

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