The brother of the alleged leader of a prominent drug trafficking organization in Guatemala has taken over as the interim president of the country's soccer federation, a striking illustration of the close ties between organized crime and soccer in the region.
In a December 7 press release, the National Soccer Federation of Guatemala (FEDEFUT) stated that Milton Mendoza Matta is acting as the federation's interim president.
Spanish news agency EFE reported Mendoza became president on December 4, just one day after the US Department of Justice indicted FEDEFUT's then-president, Brayan Jimenez, and two other Guatemalan soccer officials as part of a wider probe into corruption at the International Federation of Association Football (FIFA). Mendoza has served as the FEDEFUT spokesperson since 2010, according to EFE.
Mendoza is also the brother of Haroldo Mendoza Matta, the alleged ringleader of the Mendoza drug trafficking group based in the northern province of Peten. Haroldo was captured in November 2014 following a joint investigation by the Attorney General's Office and the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
InSight Crime Analysis
Mendoza's ascendance in in the world of Guatemalan soccer -- despite belonging to a notorious drug trafficking family -- is one example of the deep ties between the sport and organized crime throughout Central America's Northern Triangle region (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras). For drug traffickers, owning a soccer team provides a way to launder illicit money and shield themselves from legal scrutiny by building up local support and establishing -- or expanding -- connections to business and political figures.
For instance, one mayor in Peten province reportedly spent nearly $2 million on a new stadium for a soccer team owned by the Mendozas, which the mayor christened as the "Milton Mendoza Oswaldo Mendoza Matta" stadium. In return, Guatemalan news outlet Plaza Publica has suggested that the Mendozas contributed to the mayor's congressional campaign in 2011.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Mendozas
Nonetheless, the timing of Mendoza's rise is somewhat curious given the increased scrutiny on soccer corruption following the huge scandals at FIFA. The most recent indictment, which implicated 16 soccer officials from 10 Latin American nations, includes charges against political and judicial elites, and former Honduran President Rafael Callejas has reportedly already decided to hand himself in to US authorities.