The arrest of several members of an international drug trafficking organization made up of soccer hooligans from Argentina and Colombia adds to the mounting evidence of the involvement of these groups in organized crime and highlights growing criminal ties between the two countries.

On September 26, Argentine authorities arrested 15 people suspected of belonging to a network of criminalized soccer hooligan groups known as “barras bravas” that imported drugs from Colombia and sold them throughout Greater Buenos Aires, according to a report from Clarín.

The operation against the so-called “Soccer Hooligan Cartel” (“Cartel de las Barras”) also included more than 20 raids in which authorities seized more than a kilogram of marijuana, at least 1,100 doses of cocaine and 1,400 doses of paco (a smokable paste from an intermediate stage of cocaine production).

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer and Crime

Authorities identified one of the network leaders as Colombian national Sebastián Parra Jaramillo, who is also a leader of a fan club for the Atlético Nacional soccer team in Medellín, Colombia. He is alleged to have obtained drugs on consignment to then smuggle them into Argentina.

Parra Jaramillo was apprehended in the home of the son of Edgardo Gustavo Vallejos, alias “El Gordo,” head of the Argentine barra brava that supports the Club Deportivo Laferrere soccer team in Buenos Aires Province. El Gordo’s son remains at large.

Authorities in Argentina confirmed the connection between the two groups during the World Cup in Russia, when officials with the Agency for the Prevention of Violence in Sports (Agencia de Prevención de la Violencia en Deporte – APREVIDE) documented a series of suspicious meetings between the clubs.

InSight Crime Analysis

This is not the first time that such organizations have been involved in illegal activities in Argentina, nor is it the first time that they have been found to have ties to Colombian groups. However, cases in which drugs are left on consignment are rare. That it occurred between these two groups shows that they maintained a high level of trust. It is also a sign that criminal ties between the two countries continue to strengthen.

“This organization had a contact who traveled to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, where he obtained drugs on consignment, which is strange because drugs are [usually] paid for beforehand, but the soccer connection allowed them to pull it off,” said Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Cristan Ritondo at a press conference reported by Clarín.

The results of the operation also demonstrated the increasingly important role that sports have come to play in the establishment and consolidation of criminal activities like extortion and money laundering.

The Laferrere barra brava has been charging local businesses protection fees since 2010. And its political ties have helped it to gain control of the area’s informal transportation services, including not only private vehicles but also buses, according to an Infobae investigation.

As InSight Crime has reported in the past, and as this case shows, more soccer fan and hooligan groups seem to be looking to expand their criminal portfolios into more lucrative activities, sometimes violent ones.

But Argentina’s authorities have the barras bravas in their sights. During a visit to a government council on security at soccer events, Minister Ritondo announced his intention to combat not only violence but also the “soccer mafias.”

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