10 ways soccer and organized crime mix in Latin America
Soccer has long been a unifying force in Latin America. But 'the beautiful game' has attracted some of the most infamous drug kingpins in the region, something that's corrupted players, officials, and even whole clubs.
1. Narcos become owners: America de Cali
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In 1983, then-Colombian Justice Minister Rodrigo Lara Bonilla denounced a list of six professional soccer teams in the country as being "in the hands of individuals linked to drug trafficking." Among those named by Mr. Lara was America, a professional team based in the southwestern city of Cali, which was owned by brothers Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez Orejuela, the heads of the Cali Cartel. When star player Anthony de Avila scored a winning goal in a 1997 match that qualified the country for the following year's World Cup, he said in a subsequent interview that he dedicated the goal to "those who've been deprived of their liberty, especially Miguel and Gilberto Rodriguez," who had been jailed in the years prior.
After the Cali Cartel was dismantled in the late 1990s, there is evidence to suggest that America continued to receive funds from drug trafficking networks. The US Treasury Department added the team to its "Kingpin List" in 1999 because of its continued links to the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, freezing all of the team's US assets. Despite this, America de Cali is believed to have retained its unsavory ties for some time, even being linked to paramilitary organizations in 2007.
The team was finally taken off the Kingpin List in April 2013, with the Treasury citing the "enormous efforts made in recent years by both the team and the Colombian government to completely break with the criminal influences that have overshadowed the team."
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