The "White Charcoal" drug trafficking trial in Argentina has begun with allegations one of the accused worked as a frontman for a former FIFA chief, adding a new dimension to a case that has become emblematic of Argentina's evolving drug trade.
During the first day of oral trial in what has become known as the "White Charcoal" case -- named for the product traffickers used to disguise smuggled cocaine -- one of the trafficking network's alleged ring leaders surprised observers by saying that before his detention he had worked for Julio Grondona, a former president of the Argentine Football Association and Vice President of FIFA, the sport's world governing body. When pressed afterwards by La Nacion, Patricio Gorosito said he had been the "frontman" for the now deceased Grondona, who used Gorosito to disguise his soccer business interests.
Gorosito, who was the alleged principal operator in Europe for a drug trafficking network thought to be responsible for the shipment of more than one ton of cocaine from Argentina to Portugal, is known as the founder of the Argentine soccer club Real Arroyo Seco. However, he told La Nacion, in reality the team "belonged to Grondona." He added that when he later sold the club, although he retained a fee the bulk of the money went to Grondona.
The White Charcoal case was also generating headlines before the trial had even started. A federal judge in charge of investigating the case recently stated she had been offered two bribes for a total of $4.5 million in order to not continue with the probe.
InSight Crime Analysis
The White Charcoal case is one of the most significant investigations into homegrown drug trafficking networks Argentina has witnessed yet, and has already done much to reveal the sophisticated networks that are springing up to capitalize on the country's role as a cocaine transit route. If Gorosito's allegations prove true, his declarations would reveal yet another influential Argentine with connections to the case, which has already exposed a web of seemingly legitimate businessmen and the front businesses they used to disguise drug shipments and launder the profits.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of Soccer Crime
However, Gorosito's comments about Grondona may also have simply been an attempt to deflect attention away from his own wrongdoings, with Grondona an easy target for blame as he passed away in July 2014. FIFA -- which is still reeling from a massive corruption scandal -- has also recently dragged Grondona's name through the mud by saying he had authorized a $10 million bribe to soccer officials.
The large sum of money allegedly offered as bribes to the judge in the White Charcoal investigation is further indication of the power and wealth the network had garnered -- enough for those behind it to hope to buy their way out of trouble despite the case's high profile.