Eight Colombia Soccer Teams Suspected of Ties to Drug Traffickers

Eight Colombian soccer teams have come under investigation for links to drug trafficking, hinting at a new chapter in the long history of organized crime and soccer in Colombia.

On June 4, Colombia’s Attorney General’s office revealed it had opened preliminary inquiries into eight teams for links to organized crime and the laundering of drug money, reported Agencia AFP. A statement from the Attorney General said the investigations are “centered on the ties between these teams and money from drug traffickers,” and are also trying to ascertain if this money was used in player transfers.

According to El Colombiano, the inquiries are still in the stage of collecting evidence, and authorities are seeking to determine if there is sufficient proof to open formal investigations into the teams’ directors for helping criminal organizations launder money.

Of the eight teams implicated, five play in Colombia’s top division: Once Caldas, Aguilas Doradas, Envigado FC, Boyaca Chico FC, and Cortulua. The other three are second division teams: Union Magdalena, Valledupar FC, and Depor FC.

Envigado FC, which is already on the US Kingpin List over alleged money laundering, is suspected of having links with the Oficina de Envigado and Urabeños criminal organizations.

Assistant Attorney General Jorge Fernando Perdomo has said the inquiries are not related to the ongoing FIFA scandal, and that corruption in soccer “has been a recurrent theme for judicial investigations” in Colombia.

InSight Crime Analysis

As Perdomo points out, soccer and organized crime have a long history of intermixing in Latin America, with scandals even touching superstar players such as Pele and Lionel Messi.

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer Crime

Professional soccer teams not only provide criminals a means to launder drug money, but to also earn money from match fixing and build up social capital and popular support in local communities.

In the past, famous drug traffickers — such as Pablo Escobar and his rivals from the Cali Cartel — owned and financed some of the biggest teams in Colombian soccer. Owning these teams was as much an ego-boosting status symbol as it was an opportunity to launder illegally earned money.

However, in the present case, although five of the teams in question compete in Colombia’s top division they are all relatively small clubs. This raises the prospect that links between drug traffickers and soccer teams in Colombia may have never truly subsided, but instead evolved, with criminals adopting a more low-profile approach driven more by utility than vanity.