RAIDS were carried out on 120 addresses in Argentina last week in an investigation which threatens to have far-reaching consequences for world football.
The raids, ordered by a federal judge, centred on allegations of falsified Italian passports. A host of non-European footballers are currently playing club football in the European Union on European passports, circumventing the need for a work permit and limits on the number of non-EU players allowed per club.
The most recent addition to the ranks of Argentinian footballers in the Premier League is winger Jonas Gutierrez, signed by Newcastle United from Real Mallorca this month. He has an Italian passport. However, he was not one of the players reported in Argentina to be under suspicion.
According to reports in Buenos Aires, 40 Argentinian nationals were arrested in the raids, 32 of them women.
They included lawyers, accountants and solicitors as well as the employees of firms involved with printing and photocopying.
More than 60 computers, passports, money and documents are thought to have been seized. The offices of football agents Gustavo Mascardi, Jorge Cyterszpiller and Leonardo Rodriguez were raided as well as those of IMG and HAZ, the latter of which is part-owned by “super-agent” Pini Zahavi.
The company at the centre of the allegations, Citizenship Express, is owned by one of those arrested, Maria Elena Tedaldi.
She was Lazio’s translator when future Manchester United and Chelsea midfielder Juan Sebastian Veron obtained an Italian passport. Although the passport was genuine, his application was later found to have been based on false citizenship documents. Tedaldi received a 15-month suspended prison sentence.
Citizenship Express list former Newcastle midfielder Christian Bassedas, Gabriel Heinze, Javier Mascherano, Andres D’Alessandro and Diego Forlan among their clients, though there has been no suggestion they are among the more than 150 footballers whose passports are under investigation.
The offences being investigated are “falsification of public documents” and “conspiracy”.
Independiente and Lanus were the only football clubs raided.