Money Laundering Allegations Dog Mexico’s Cruz Azul Soccer Club

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Although the Mexican soccer league has canceled the rest of its season, one of its most acclaimed clubs has remained in the headlines as three of its directors are being investigated for corruption.

On May 29, Mexico’s Financial Intelligence Unit (Unidad de Inteligencia Financiera – UIF) froze the accounts of Cruz Azul, one of the country’s most important cement companies and owner of the eponymous soccer team, for alleged links to money laundering and organized crime.

Three company directors are being investigated for financial irregularities involving up to 1.2 billion pesos ($55 million): Guillermo Álvarez, who is also the president of the team, his brother Alfredo Álvarez and Víctor Garcés.

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Investigators allege that false invoices were used to funnel proceeds from the company to shell companies. The money was then used to buy real estate in the United States, according to UIF director Santiago Nieto in an interview with W Radio.

The cement company’s board of directors spoke to the UIF in March 2020 about accusations that Guillermo Álvarez had “looted” millions of pesos and then diverted the money to the United States and Spain, La Jornada reported.

On May 30, the company’s spokesperson, Jorge Álvarez, denied the allegations, telling the newspaper Récord that “the accusations are without basis and without any evidence.”

At first, investigators were careful to make a difference between the Cruz Azul cement company and the soccer team, even unfreezing the team’s accounts so it could pay its employees.

But on June 2, Nieto stated the club was formally part of the investigation.

InSight Crime Analysis

Soccer and corruption have long gone hand-in-hand in Mexico but this new process has led to fears that Cruz Azul, one of the country’s most popular clubs, could be kicked out of the league altogether.

In September 2019, Nieto first warned of financial irregularities detected inside Mexican clubs and that the UIF was investigating.

The investigation into Guillermo Álvarez could imperil the club’s league status, with the regulations of the Mexican Football Federation (Federación Mexicana de Fútbol – FMF) stating that a club can lose its membership “if the owner and/or the officers of the club” are involved in criminal acts.”

For the moment, the Mexican soccer league, Liga MX, appears to be standing by the club. While Guillermo Álvarez is being removed as club president, he was not the sole owner of the team meaning that Cruz Azul could likely remain in the league with new leadership.

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Legendary soccer figures such as Jorge Campos, the national team’s former goalkeeper, have spoken out about corruption in the sport. In an interview with ESPN in May, he denounced the “mafia and corruption” inside Mexican football, stating that “the friends of [club] presidents” are pulling the strings.

Drug trafficking has also been connected to Mexican soccer. In 2018, during the trial of Joaquín Guzmán Loera, alias “El Chapo,” one of the drug lord’s partners, Tirso Martínez Sánchez, alias “El Futbolista,” confessed to having been the owner of several Mexican teams, including Querétaro, Celaya, Irapuato and La Piedad, that were used as fronts to launder money.

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