Judicial proceedings have begun in the case of eleven former soccer players from El Salvador’s national team who stand accused of accepting money to fix matches, illustrating the intersections between soccer and organized crime.
In a March 18 preliminary hearing, nine of the eleven soccer players appeared in court to face charges in connection with four rigged matches between 2010 and 2013, reported El Mundo. The players and their accomplices — three foreigners who allegedly paid $10,000 to each player who participated in the scheme — have been accused of laundering $100,000 through the matches, according to La Pagina.
The scandal first broke in August 2013, when sports magazine El Grafico published a claim from an anonymous national team player that a Singaporean criminal known as Dan Tan had paid players to throw a match as part of an international match fixing ring. El Grafico later revealed that some of the games included qualifying matches for the 2014 World Cup.
In the wake of the scandal, Salvadoran authorities raided players’ houses, and the country’s soccer federation banned 14 players for life.
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Allegations of money laundering and corruption tied to soccer matches are not unique to El Salvador. Cristian Villalta, the editor of El Grafico, told InSight Crime in a 2013 interview that other countries like Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Bolivia have seen similar cases. “What they have in common is semi-professionalism, governing bodies with little resources and/or will to combat the threat, and footballers that are not well paid,” Villalta said. Criminal groups take advantage of this situation to fix the final score so that they can win big in the illegal gambling market, according to Villalta.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer and Crime
Elsewhere in the region, drug trafficking organizations have purchased professional soccer teams, groups of die-hard soccer fans have been linked to drug dealing, and soccer players have been used as cash mules. In 2013, the father and financial agent of Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi came under fire when it was revealed that a Messi tour to raise money for charities may have actually been used to launder drug money.
While match fixing is not unique to El Salvador, organized crime also intersects with soccer in ways more specific to the country’s security issues. Most professional teams do not assign players the numbers 13 or 18, to avoid angering Barrio 18 and MS13, the country’s two most powerful street gangs, because the players who used to sport these numbers often became the victims of attacks.
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