The national team’s captain is among 22 people sanctioned by the US for alleged ties to a drug-trafficking organisation.
Legendary Mexican footballer Rafael Marquez Alvarez and a well-known band leader are among 22 people sanctioned for alleged ties to a drug-trafficking organisation, the US Treasury Department announced on Wednesday.
The sanctions are the result of a multi-year investigation of the drug-trafficking organisation allegedly headed by Raul Flores Hernandez, the department said in a statement.
It will also sanction 43 entities in Mexico, including a football team and casino.
It is the single largest such designation of a drug-trafficking organisation ever by its Office of Foreign Assets Control, the statement said.
Marquez, 38, is a former defender for Barcelona, Monaco and New York Red Bulls who currently plays for the Mexican soccer club Atlas in Guadalajara and is captain of the Mexican national team.
Marquez denied having any links to drug traffickers.
“I categorically deny any kind of relation to this organisation,” Marquez said in a statement on Wednesday, adding: “Today is my most difficult match; I will try to clear all of this up.”
The sanctions freeze all US assets of the people and entities named and forbid US citizens from doing business with them.
Raul Flores Hernandez: ‘Extraordinarily crafty’
Flores Hernandez allegedly operated independently in the northern city of Guadalajara but maintained alliances with the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels. The attorney general’s office said Flores Hernandez was arrested on July 20 and is being held while his extradition is pending.
The Mexican Attorney General’s Office also seized related assets on Wednesday, including the Grand Casino near Guadalajara, according to the US statement.
Mexican prosecutors said they were working closely with US authorities on the investigation and added that Marquez came voluntarily to the Attorney General’s Office to provide a statement.
Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the US Drug Enforcement Administration and author of the book Deal, said 64-year old Flores Hernandez has been in the business since the 1980s.
“He is extraordinarily crafty in the way he strategises and the way that he navigates between cartels,” Vigil told the Associated Press news agency.
But, the former agent added, Flores Hernandez has remained a mid-level drug trafficker, never forming what one would call a cartel, and of late had aligned himself with Nemesio Oseguera of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
Vigil said Flores Hernandez had a real talent for laundering drug proceeds by setting up front companies. He said it would be difficult to imagine that Marquez didn’t know who he was dealing with because Flores Hernandez has been around for so long.
“Raul Flores Hernandez has operated for decades because of his long-standing relationships with other drug cartels and his use of financial front persons to mask his investments of illegal drug proceeds,” John E Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.
Federal drug trafficking indictments against Flores Hernandez were returned in March in Washington and the southern district of California.