Football’s biggest drugs related case explodes but of course, it couldn’t happen here, because…

By Tony Attwood

FC Barcelona’s former defender, Rafael Márquez – the man known as “Emperor of Michoacán” is a national hero in Mexico. And a pretty big hero to Barcelona.   But now the US authorities are investigating him.

And they are doing this for one simple reason: Márquez is said to have been involved in a drug cartel.
His case could provide insights into what the newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung (literally the Newspaper of South Germany) calls “the often downplayed doping and drug problems in professional football.”

It is, as I have been trying to show in my last two articles (links at the end) something that is exercising quite a few people in football – although notoriously not in England where the message is loud and clear “there is no drugs issue in English football.”

Márquez was recently questioned for five hours by the prosecutor. Then he held a press conference to deny that he had ever been involved in anything crooked, dubious or sordid.  Everything would be revealed in due course he proclaimed, and he was cooperating fully with the investigative authorities.  And anyway, as everyone knows, there is no drugs issue in football.

Rafael Márquez is just about Mexico’s most famous footballer and the most famous captain of the national elite “El Tri” (the Mexican national football team).  And now he is suspected of playing in another more dubious grouping alongside Raul Flores Hernandez, (confusingly called El Tio), the king of the underworld.  

The US Treasury has now named name Hernandez as a significant foreign narcotics trafficker.  The Office of Foreign Assets Control cited him under the Kingpin Act, naming 21 Mexican citizens and 42 organisations (including bars, restaurants, one football club, and a casino) for allegedly providing support to the organization or for being owned by people involved it.

The US Treasury has now reported the results of a four-year investigation with the US anti-drug agency DEA, customs and border guards, as well as the Mexican government: the accusation is that Márquez has been used as a front and money launderer for El Tio’s Los Fuentes cocaine syndicate

Flores allegedly cleaned his own drug incomes through a whole string of illicit companies. Márquez is said to have been so enthusiastic and energetic that he was engaged in nine of the 42 drugs operations that the US judiciary has so far shut down. Including, we may note, a football school, a rehab centre for sportsmen, a football foundation and the club CD Morumbi, where Flores and Márquez worked as partners.

In short Mexico’s most famous player is alleged to have been right at the centre of a drugs money laundering cartel.  Now obviously that does not automatically connect with the issues raised in the last two articles about drugs use by footballers but it adds to the mix – a mix in which seemingly all trust between WADA and footballing authorities, along with any sort of agreement as to something as simply as how many drugs cases there are, has broken down.

In fact the case reads like a Hollywood movie – although one not fit for release in Britain (except maybe in specialist art cinemas, or as a footnote on the sports pages with a subtext about “funny foreigners” and “it couldn’t happen here”.)

But above all, this case suggets how close drugs cartels are now linked to football. Márquez played 142 games for his country and was captain of Mexico at four World Cup tournaments.

With FC Barcelona (now so often associated with things that are not quite right it never seems to come as a surprise any more) he won four championship titles and the Champions League twice.  After his professional career in Monaco, Verona and the Red Bulls in New York, he returned to his home club Atlas Guadalajara.

And here’s a thought: Márquez was managed by the agency of the market leader in this field, and Cristiano Ronaldo consultant, Jorge Mendes.

On 22 September 2014, an investigation by The Guardian implicated Jorge Mendes alongside ex-Manchester United and Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon in breaching Fifa regulations regarding third-party ownership and conflict of interest in player representation, and buying player rights through companies based in Jersey and Ireland.

This followed another report published in January 2014 suggesting Kenyon’s ex-club Chelsea have invested in third-party ownership via Mendes and Kenyon, a practice banned by the Premier League. Chelsea declined to comment on the accusations.

In December 2016, leaked documents suggested that Mendes was involved in a massive tax avoidance scheme with both Mourinho and Ronaldo accused of not paying taxes by using offshore accounts.

Márquez meanwhile is the face of Mexican football, and until recently was a major force in FC Barcelona.  And did no one know what was going on?  

He ​​denies the allegations.

But according to the US Treasury Department, he is said to have been in a leading position for the drug cartel surrounding the Mexican underworld over a large number of years.  They have apparently been targeting 3 companies and 22 people in this investigation including Márquez and thus, FC Barcelona.  

We await the outcome with much interest, although don’t bank on any British paper covering the story, unless it is to make the point that of course none of this has anything to do with Britain.  Except that given the way our drugs control systems work in relation to football, how would we ever know?

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  1. more alleged wrongdoing by FCB associates revealed as its president Bartomeu denies to have signed Paulinho for personal gain

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