US Sanctions Colombia Soccer Club for Crime Ties

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The US Treasury has accused Envigado soccer club in Colombia of laundering money for the Oficina de Envigado, in a new financial assault against the Medellin crime syndicate, and the latest example of the long history of ties between crime and soccer.

Envigado FC, and majority shareholder Juan Pablo Upegui Gallego, were among 10 people and 14 businesses placed on the Treasury’s “Kingpin List” for their alleged collusion with the Oficina de Envigado, the drug trafficking and organized crime network that has ruled Medellin since the demise of Pablo Escobar.

According to the Treasury, Upegui Gallego is “a key associate within La Oficina and has used his position as the team’s owner to put its finances at the service of La Oficina for many years.”

Upegui later issued a statement denying any criminal ties.

Among those singled out by the Treasury are alleged Oficina underbosses responsible for violence, extortion and drug trafficking, a high-ranking member of Envigado’s Transit Police, and a former policeman allegedly turned Oficina enforcer.

The individuals and businesses named by the Treasury now face financial sanctions that prohibit US citizens from doing business with them and freeze any US assets they have.

InSight Crime Analysis

Envigado FC has long had a reputation for two things: nurturing young talent such as Colombian soccer superstar James Rodriguez, and maintaining ties to the underworld and drug trafficking.

The club was founded by Upegui’s father Gustavo Adolfo Upegui Lopez, who was believed to be a close friend and ally first of Pablo Escobar, and later of his successor as Medellin kingpin, Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna.”

In 2006, Gustavo Upegui was tortured and murdered, allegedly at the hands of Oficina commander Daniel Mejia, alias “Danielito,” who believed Upegui had grown too powerful.

Envigado is far from the only point of crossover between Colombian soccer and organized crime. Cali based club America de Cali was on the US Kingpin List for 14 years due to its ties to the Cali Cartel, while Bogota clubs Millonarios and Santa Fe also had connections to infamous drug lords.

However, the decision to place Envigado FC on the US Kingpin List is not only a reminder of the long-standing ties between soccer and organized crime, it is also another sign that the Oficina de Envigado is firmly in the sights of US authorities.

Since the Treasury labeled the Oficina a “specially designated narcotics trafficker” in June this year, it has added 30 people and 28 businesses to the Kingpin List.

In many respects, the Oficina is a shadow of its former self; fragmented into factions without clear leadership, and having lost its monopoly on Medellin crime by entering into a power-sharing deal with the rival Urabeños in 2013.

However, the campaign spearheaded by the US Treasury suggests the authorities believe the Oficina is still a major player both within Colombia and in the world of international drug trafficking.

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