A coordinated “mega-wave” of raids has exposed an alleged major money laundering and tax evasion scheme involving soccer clubs in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile.
Around 150 simultaneous raids last week targeted offices of major clubs and players’ representatives and homes of club officials in Argentina and the offices of four major financial institutions, including the Royal Bank of Canada, in Uruguay. Judicial sources told newspaper La Nacion that the raids uncovered the "central office" for money laundering in Argentine soccer, alleged to have handled transfers worth tens of millions of dollars in recent years. According to La Nacion, the offices belong to Alhec Group, a finance company which operates in Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay and has handled many sales of Argentine players to foreign clubs.
Ten people were arrested in Argentina, including two public officials, one of whom was the Inspector General of Currency Control.
InSight Crime Analysis
The use of soccer clubs for money laundering is a decades-old phenomenon in Latin America, coming to particular prominence in Colombia during the 1980s, when major drug traffickers openly bought up their local teams and played out their rivalries on the field.
More recently, an investigation into the finances of Bogota club Santa Fe led investigators to Luis Agustin Caicedo Velandia, alias "Don Lucho," a major drug trafficker previously living incognito in Buenos Aires, where he was arrested in 2010. It has since been suggested that, alongside the Alvarez Meyendorff brothers, Don Lucho laundered up to $1.5 billion through Colombian soccer clubs.
Last week's operation appears to be the culmination of a long-running investigation by Argentina's tax revenue office, which last year saw Argentine soccer player Jonathan Bottinelli charged with tax evasion following a suspicious transfer to another team. More than 140 soccer agents have been suspended, and Alhec Group has been under investigation since last March.
What has not yet been revealed is the exact volume of money concerned. The Bottinelli transfer involved a deposit of $1.7 million into a Miami bank, but the fees for some of the other transfers under investigation have been more than ten times that amount.