Spain holds football agents over drug links: police

27th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Spanish police said 11 people including football players, ex-players and agents have been arrested for having links to a drug trafficking network.

MADRID – Spanish police said Thursday they had arrested a Serbian-born football agent suspected of running a drug trafficking network, following an operation in which they seized 600 kilogrammes of cocaine.

Ten other people, including "several linked to the world of football," were also arrested, a police statement said.

A police official later told a news conference that two retired footballers and two players' agents were among those held, but did not identify them.

The police statement said the agent who allegedly led the gang is a Serbian-born French national, and identified him only by his initials, ZM. However, the newspaper El Pais named him as Zoran Matijevic.

He used frequent trips to South America as part of his job "to establish contacts and organise the transport of narcotics to Europe," the statement said.

The police operation, launched in mid-2008, led to the seizure in mid-February of 600 kilogrammes of cocaine from a container in a lorry. The container arrived in Madrid from Argentina via Morocco.

Police said the operation was continuing and did not rule out more arrests.

Judicial sources said seven of the suspects were arrested in Madrid, where they are to appear in court on Friday. The four others were detained in the eastern cities of Valencia and Alicante, and will appear before a judge in Valencia Friday.

The newspaper El Pais said Matijevic's "right-hand man" in the network was Pedrag Stankovic, a retired player formerly with Spanish second division club Hercules Alicante and Red Star Belgrade.

Another footballer, Carlos de la Vega, who currently plays for second division side Rayo Vallecano is suspected of providing "logistical help" to the network, the paper said.

It was not clear however whether either of the players were among the 11 arrested.

Spain, with its historical and linguistic ties to South America, is Europe's main entry point for cocaine from the continent, especially from Colombia, the world's top producer of the drug.

Spanish customs agents seized 21.8 tonnes of cocaine in 2008, according to provisional figures, down from 25 tonnes in the previous year.

Over 8,000 people were jailed in Spain in 2008 for cocaine trafficking.

AFP / Expatica

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