The father of Argentina and Barcelona soccer star Lionel Messi is under investigation for laundering drug money, in the latest scandal offering evidence that ties between organized crime and soccer have spread from Latin America to Europe.
The Central Operations Unit (UCO) of Spain's Civil Guard has opened an investigation into allegations Jorge Messi, father and finance manager to one of the world's most prominent soccer players, is on the payroll of Colombian drug traffickers reported El Mundo.
Jorge Messi stands accused of laundering money by staging major charitable events and manipulating so-called "Row Zero" tickets, whereby people paid for tickets without the intention of attending because the money was for charity. According to El Mundo, the sale of such tickets was carried out in a manner impossible to track. Jorge Messi is accused of taking a cut of between ten and 20 percent of the money being laundered.
The events include the recent "Messi and Friends" tour, which saw the superstar visit international locations to play in charity matches alongside other world famous players, reported El Mundo.
The Messi and Friends tour passed through Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, as well as the Peruvian capital Lima, and Cancun in Mexico, before ending in Colombia's second-largest city, Medellin, during the summer of 2013. The Medellin game followed a similar match in Bogota in 2012, however organizers reported major financial losses due to poor attendance.
Four current players for FC Barcelona -- Messi's club team -- have been questioned as part of the investigation: Messi himself; Javier Mascherano; Daniel Alves; and Jose Manuel Pinto.
InSight Crime Analysis
Should the investigation into Jorge Messi bring legal action and possible conviction, it would send shockwaves throughout the soccer world.
However, it is not the first such case to surface recently. Jose Luis Perez Caminero, a former Spain international and current director of Atletico Madrid, is also subject of a money laundering investigation, and stands accused of having links to Mexican and Colombian organized crime.
Such links between organized crime and soccer have long been common in Latin America -- just earlier this year, clubs in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile were raided and accused of being used as money laundering hubs. With two high profile scandals now hitting Spanish soccer in quick succession, this could be an indication Latin American organized crime is now also establishing a presence within one of the most highly regarded soccer leagues in the world, which would help launder the proceeds from the European drug market -- a revenue source of growing importance.