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Drug cartels found to fuel Colombian soccer clubs – SportsUntapped.com
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Added March 18th, 2011 by Ian

Drug cartels found to fuel Colombian soccer clubs
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Many Colombian soccer clubs find themselves in a catch-22 situation as they’re starving for cash, but when money does show up they’re afraid it’s linked to local drug lords or money-laundering schemes.
Take the case of the Independiente Santa Fe club in the country’s capital city of Bogota. The team had been losing for years, was struggling financially and was missing its payments to players. It also hadn’t won a championship since 1975. All of a sudden, back in 2001, US$7 million showed up on their front door stuffed inside a duffle bag.

The club’s fortunes turned around slightly after the money arrived and it was able to attract some players from Argentina to it. This meant they now had the talent to battle for a first division title for the first time in over three decades.

However, while the money definitely helped the club, it is believed to have come from a drug lord named Julio Alberto Lozano, who invested in club shares through his family and friends. Lozano is known to be one of Colombia’s most powerful drug lords and has apparently used the football club as a front for some of his criminal activities. American investigators claim that Lozano has moved almost 1,000 tons of cocaine Europe and America during the last five years.

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The drug cartel is known El Dorado and it’s been alleged that it has laundered some of its profits of 1.5 billion through the Santa Fe club. However, investigators don’t believe Santa Fe is the only club being used this way by criminals. Colombian teams have long been associated with criminals and drug barons. In fact, three more of First Division’s 18 clubs are also being investigated for possible money laundering.

The links between drug money and Colombian soccer teams stretch back over 30 years, since the start of the 1980s. Many drug barons bought clubs as nothing more than play things Atletico Nacional was owned by the notorious Pablo Escobar while the Millionarios club was owned by rival drug trafficker Gonzalo Rodriguez Gacha. The America de Cali team was partly owned by the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who happens to be a supporter of Santa Fe, is trying to crack down on the illegal practice what is commonly referred to as narco-soccer. He has vowed to stamp out the link between soccer clubs and criminals.

Undercover police and informants discovered the links between Santa Fe and the drug cartel in the spring of 2010 and an investigation was launched in June, with one owner being arrested in Argentina with a fake Guatemalan passport. An informant said he saw the duffel bag filled with cash given to Santa Fe club officials. Police then seized close to $150 million in cash throughout Bogota hidden in parked cars. Prosecutors said the money was meant to be laundered through the Santa Fe soccer club.

The team’s auditor was shot after being questioned in July, and it was revealed he had been involved in Escobar’s drug gang. However Santa Fe’s president, Cesar Pastrana, said he wasn’t worried about being investigated and that everybody’s innocent until proven guilty.

The Colombian government is fed up though and is in the process of introducing laws to make the finances of soccer teams more transparent. The government wants to tighten rules and enforce new ones. At the moment, a team can buy a player for $200,000, but enter it in the books as a $2,000,000 transfer. As for Santa Fe, the investigation has seen the team’s performance suffer. Team officials have resigned recently and the club is planning to sell its foreign players. There are no sponsors and of course the drug money has now been cut off. The club’s fans realize they may have to wait another three decades to see the team win a championship.

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