Argentina Bust Shows Growing Role of Soccer Thugs in Drug Trade

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Authorities in Argentina have busted a gang of drug trafficking soccer hooligans, in a case that illustrates the criminal potential of the well-connected thugs known as “barras bravas.”

Police arrested eight people that were members of hooligan gangs of soccer teams Independiente and El Porvenir, and seized vehicles, weapons, 60 kilos of marijuana and two kilos of cocaine, reported Los Andes.

According to police, the gang did not operate within the grounds of the two teams but instead offered a micro-trafficking delivery service, principally in the capital city and the Greater Buenos Aires area.

The arrests come two months after an attack against the president of El Porvenir, Enrique Merelas, in which unknown assailants torched his car, reported El Litorial. Following the attack, Merelas complained the club had become a “drug warehouse.”

He added: “This happens in all the clubs, and the leader that says otherwise is lying.”

InSight Crime Analysis

Argentina’s barra bravas have long since evolved from loose team based affiliations of thugs spoiling for a fight with opposition fans, to coordinated and powerful organizations.

The barras wield enormous influence in the clubs, and the club hierarchy use them to rig club elections, provide security, and intimidate opponents. They also run touting and parking rackets, deal drugs, and even hire out their members to provide on demand street support for politicians or at demonstrations.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

The case of the El Porvenir and Independiente fans, along with the comments of the El Porvenir president, suggest the links between microtrafficking and soccer could be getting stronger, with drug dealing activities moving off the terraces and into full time operations covering large metropolitan areas.

The fact the ring was comprised of fans from different soccer teams raises the possibility that this was an operation combining their networks, extending beyond the established business lines of the individual barras. This could suggest some leaders from the groups are looking to expand their criminal activities, or possibly that outside drug trafficking groups are recruiting from or co-opting these structures.

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