A new round of arrests and charges in an unfolding racketeering case in Argentina involving a criminalized soccer fan club, or "barra brava," points to these groups' growing sophistication and capacity for violence.
On November 30, Argentine authorities announced that they had conducted more than 30 raids on various properties connected to the barra brava of the Club Atlético Independiente, one of the top-ranked teams in Argentina's premier soccer league.
In a press release, the Security Ministry stated that the 14 suspects arrested in the operation included the team's vice president, Noray Nakis. Officials accused Nakis of using Independiente's barra brava "as shock troops for his personal interest," and said he used "his jewelry stores to launder money obtained from illegal businesses," including ticket scalping and illicit parking services around the stadium.
Authorities also detained Roberto Petrov, who served as a bodyguard for Independiente president Hugo Moyano. According to La Nación, three police officers were injured by gunfire when attempting to detain Petrov.
The Security Ministry said that the raids came after an eight-month investigation that had previously resulted in the October 27 arrest of Pablo "Bebote" Álvarez, the leader of the Independiente barra brava. Bebote was accused of attempting to extort Ariel Holan, the team's head coach.
InSight Crime Analysis
Specific details about the inner workings of the criminal network linked to Independiente's barra brava have so far been sparse. Taken in context, however, several facts of the case add to mounting evidence that Argentina's barras bravas are evolving from loosely organized hooligans into more complex criminal structures.
In addition, the fact that police were reportedly fired upon in their attempt to detain Petrov indicates the group's willingness to confront authorities with a potentially lethal level of violence.
Furthermore, authorities say top team officials not only tolerated, but actively participated in criminal activities involving the barra brava. These types of relationships could lead crooked executives to be more willing to use violence in relation to illicit activities not usually associated with physical conflict, like ticket scalping and illicit parking schemes.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer Crime
Argentina's barras bravas have long been associated with smaller-scale criminal activities like extortion and drug dealing. But they have grown more powerful over the years thanks to protection from powerful teams that often have ties to potent political forces. (A similar dynamic has been observed in neighboring Uruguay.)
Prior to the recent operation against the Independiente barra brava, the Argentine government had taken steps to clamp down on such groups, including creating a government registry in early 2016 to attempt to track them. While these initiatives have achieved some results, they have also revealed the barras' depth and sophistication, which will make these groups difficult to dismantle.