An El Salvador judge has exonerated several former players from the country’s national soccer team of money laundering charges even though they apparently accepted money to fix matches, sending a message of impunity to players and international criminals alike.

On March 27, Judge Ernesto Pineda exonerated 11 players of criminal charges for accepting money for match fixing, declaring that such behavior “does not constitute the crime of money laundering” under El Salvador’s criminal codes, reported El Faro.

Of the 11 players facing charges, 10 received lifetime bans by El Salvador’s soccer federation in September 2013, with the eleventh player suspended for 18 months from professional play. The players allegedly fixed four Salvadoran national team matches between 2010 and 2012; three were played in the United States, and one in Paraguay.

While Judge Pineda said the players “attacked the dignity of the homeland,” he added that their actions would nonetheless stay “in the sphere of morals and conscience.”

An indefinite legal stay was also issued for three foreigners implicated in the match fixing — two Nicaraguans and a Malian.

InSight Crime Analysis

When the news first broke, this was a massive and embarrassing scandal. Soccer teams, no matter the size of the country, are the source of pride (and often shame) throughout the world. 

They are also a source of crime. As InSight Crime has chronicled, it is common for criminal groups to have relationships with local soccer teams. The teams can help them launder money, and they often buy them social capital in their areas of operation. 

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer and Organized Crime

As this case shows, they have another purpose as well: manipulation of international gambling houses. In this instance, the Salvadoran players apparently accepted $10,000 each from a Singaporean criminal named Dan Tan to throw the matches in question — one of which was a friendly match against DC United played at RFK Stadium in Washington, DC.

Finding the players innocent on a technicality will only further these criminal ends. 

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