Financial Head of Colombia ‘Soccer Cartel’ Arrested

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Police in Argentina have arrested the alleged top financial operative of a very wealthy but for a long time little-known Colombian drug network, accused of laundering millions of dollars through the country’s soccer clubs.

Ignacio Alvarez Meyendorff, reportedly an ex-member of Colombia’s defunct Norte del Valle Cartel, was arrested at Buenos Aires international airport after a flight from Tahiti, according to Clarin.

Alvarez has lived in Argentina since 2005, leading a low-key lifestyle in a fashionable Buenos Aires neighborhood. He was arrested by Argentinean authorities April 27 after the New York Eastern District Court indicted him on drug-trafficking charges. The indictment also accused him of planning the shipment of cocaine in “narco subs,” reports the newspaper.

He is accused of working alongside Luis Agustin Caicedo Velandia, alias “Lucho,” who was arrested in Buenos Aires in June 2010. Along with a key figure of the Colombian emerald trade, Julio Alberto Lozano Pirateque, Lucho worked with one of Colombia’s most powerful drug traffickers, Daniel Barrera, alias “El Loco.” This organization, dubbed the “El Dorado Cartel,” has also been described as a drug-trafficking “board of directors,” who are thought to ship up to eight tons of cocaine a month to Europe and the U.S.

According to Colombian police chief Oscar Naranjo, this “board” also has links to the Sinaloa Cartel and Gener Garcia Molina, alias “Jhon 40,” commander of the 43rd Front of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia – FARC).

Like Alvarez, Lucho stayed off the radar in Buenos Aires, sending his family to live in Spain and attracting little attention. He only came under scrutiny after Colombian authorities began investigating the financing of a popular Bogota soccer club, Santa Fe. According to Colombian investigators, the Dorado Cartel may have laundered up to $1.5 billion in major and minor league Colombian soccer teams, including Santa Fe.

The September 2010 seizure of $41 million in cash hidden in shipping containers in the Colombian port city Buenaventura, and in Manzanilla, Mexico, also caught the attention of authorities. The money was later traced to the El Dorado Cartel, and helped lead to the arrest of Lucho in Buenos Aires in June 2010. He has since been extradited to the U.S.

It is possible that Lucho provided the intelligence needed to arrest Alvarez. His associate Julio Alberto Lozano Pirateque also began feeling the pressure from law enforcement soon after Lucho’s arrest: Lozano turned himself in to U.S. authorities in November 2010. A wealthy emerald trader, Lozano reportedly made contact with Santa Fe in 2002 and began investing money in the team.

There have been other financial blows against the El Dorado Cartel and its associate, Daniel Barrera. Between September 2 and September 14, 2010, Colombian police seized about $50 million in cash from various cars parked throughout Bogota. The money was said to belong to Daniel Barrera, Lozano, and Lucho, and may have been repayment to the Mexican cartels, or, according to Oscar Naranjo, intended to be laundered in part through the Santa Fe team.

With Alvarez, Lucho, and Lozano captured, it is possible that more intelligence will emerge about the most well-known trafficker on the “board of directors,” who is also the only one still at large. Daniel Barrera, one of the principal traffickers of cocaine from Colombia to Europe, is believed to be hiding in Venezuela.

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