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On September 26, Argentine authorities arrested 15 people suspected of belonging to a network of criminal soccer hooligan groups - known in Latin America as barras bravas - that imported drugs from Colombia and sold them throughout Greater Buenos Aires, according to a report from Clarín.
The operation against the so-called Soccer Hooligan Cartel also included more than 20 raids in which authorities seized at least 1.100 doses of cocaine and 1.400 doses of paco (a smokable paste from an intermediate stage of cocaine production), and more than a kilogram of marijuana.
Authorities identified one of the network leaders as Sebastián Parra Jaramillo, a Colombian national who is also the leader of a fan club for the Atlético Nacional soccer team in Medellín, Colombia. He allegedly obtained drugs on consignment to smuggle into Argentina.
Parra Jaramillo was arrested in the home of the son of Edgardo Gustavo Vallejos, aka El Gordo, the head of the Argentine barra brava that supports the Club Deportivo Laferrere soccer team in the Buenos Aires Province. El Gordo’s son remains at large.
Authorities in Argentina confirmed the connection between the two groups during the World Cup in Russia, when officials from the Agency for the Prevention of Violence in Sports (APREVIDE) documented a series of suspicious meetings between the clubs.
This is not the first time that such organizations have been involved in illegal activities in Argentina, nor is it the first time that they have been found to have ties to Colombian groups.
This is not the first time that such organizations have been involved in illegal activities in Argentina, nor is it the first time that they have been found to have ties to Colombian groups. However, cases in which drugs are left on consignment are rare.
The fact that this occurred in this case shows the high level of trust between the two groups. It is also a sign that criminal ties between the two countries continue to strengthen.
“This organization had a contact who traveled to Colombia, Peru and Ecuador, where he obtained drugs on consignment, which is strange because drugs are usually paid for beforehand, but the soccer connection allowed them to pull it off”, said Buenos Aires Province Security Minister Cristan Ritondo.
The results of the operation have also shown the increasingly important role that sports have come to play in the establishment and consolidation of criminal activities like extortion and money laundering.
The Laferrere barra brava has been charging local businesses protection fees since 2010. And its political ties have helped it gain control of the area’s informal transportation services, including not only private cars but all kinds of vehicles, including buses.
This case highlights the fact that, throughout the region, more soccer fan and hooligan groups appear to be looking to expand their criminal portfolios into more lucrative activities, including violent ones.
It is no coincidence that Minister Ritondo, in a meeting of a government council on security at soccer events, announced the intention of Argentine authorities to combat not only barra brava violence but also what he called the “soccer mafias”.
This article was previously published by InSightCrime and can be read here.