(Photo via Taringa)

The world of Argentine football has been in shock since the existence of a child abuse ring targeting teenagers playing in football club’s academies was uncovered. Youngsters who came to Buenos Aires from the interior of the country and lived in the club’s boarding houses were some of the most susceptible victims.

Those who have recently come forward revealed that the ones subjected to abuse mostly came from low income households and were therefore more vulnerable. The accused allegedly exploited their social condition, going so far as to offer them clothing, cleats, tickets to go visit their families, and even topping up their SUBE cards in exchange for engaging in sexual activities.

The scandal erupted two weeks ago after a teenager playing for one of Independiente’s youth academies told his team coordinator what was going on.

Once the club’s employee went to the prosecutor’s office in Avellaneda and the investigation began, the scandal has done nothing but grow. Last weekend, an attorney working for an association that provides legal aid to rape victims (Avivi) stated that two underage males “and a female volleyball player” (it’s unclear whether she’s also a minor) who played for River Plate, were allegedly abused between 2004 and 2011.

The person coming forward with the accusation is a doctor who worked for the club while the abuses were allegedly taking place. Afraid of becoming a target for her accusations, she turned to Avivi, and has so far rejected talking to media, stating she will communicate with the prosecutor’s office and no one else.

The River Plate stadium, where the boarding house is. Photo via Minuto Uno
The River Plate stadium, where the boarding house is. Photo via Minuto Uno

 

Nonetheless, the most shocking revelation from her statement was leaked, mentioning that between 2004 and 2011, (at least) two players from the club’s academy were abused by a transgender person known as “La Lore,” who allegedly was HIV positive. In the case of the volleyball player, the doctor said she was groped by another doctor working for the club.

According to Infobae, the club’s authorities had already been made aware of the situation but were dismissive of it when she came forward. She claims she was told not to get involved.

Some time later, and after returning from maternity leave, she was fired from the club.

“She believes there was no just cause for it, and it has to do with the questions she started asking,” Avivi lawyer Andrés Bonicalzi told Clarín. Several former academy players also came forward and told the news site that they knew of the existence of “[older] men” offering money in exchange for sexual acts. Additionally, the club’s stadium was raided by police yesterday to gather information that could be potentially relevant to the case.

Avivi director María Elena Leuzzi says she has already been threatened repeatedly due to her organization’s actions: on Monday she received an anonymous phone call in which she was told to “stop what she was doing.” Yesterday, police showed up at her house at 5 AM because “someone had called 911 to say she was dead.”

As the investigation into this alleged pedophile ring continues, six people have been detained and charges have been pressed so far, while one suspect remains on the run:

  • Martín Bustos: Professional referee. The first to be detained as a result of the investigation, he stands accused of luring the minors and paying them between AR $800 and $1,000 to have sexual relations with adults. His role in the pedophile ring has not been specified.
  • Tomás Beldi: Bustos’ attorney. He was charged with aggravated cover up, after Prosecutor María Soledad Garibaldi accused him of smashing his client’s cellphone with a hammer, in an alleged attempt to hide potentially incriminating texts or pictures.
  • Juan Manuel Díaz Ballone: Manages football players and mostly operates in the southern region of the Buenos Aires Province. His alleged role in the case has not been specified.
  • Alejandro Carlos Dal Cin: Detained for abusing a minor and “taking advantage of his sexual immaturity.”
  • Silvio Fleyta: A 24-year-old student accused of being responsible for approaching the young children and convincing them to engage in sexual activities.
  • Leo Cohen Arazi: Worked in Public Relations and has been accused of abusing several minors. He admitted to paying for sex although “never with minors.” He was also accused by several of the victims of serving as the nexus with other adults who engaged in sexual activities with them. His apartment in Palermo, as well as the restaurant he owns in the area, have been raided by the police in the last few days, as they are the locations that the minors were allegedly taken to. The allegations were further confirmed by former ‘Big Brother’ contestant, Marian Farjat. Recently making the rounds on television shows, Farjat has come forward and accused Cohen Arazi of being a pedophile (an accusation she also made before the prosecutor’s office) and said that she was aware that he was in a relationship with a player of Independiente’s academy who was 17 years old at the time. She also said he offered her “to become a prostitute,” a proposal she says she rejected. “Not everyone is talking, but I hope they do, because there are several other cases (like this),” she said in an interview with TV show Café de la Tarde.

The scandal transcended the football world and sent shockwaves across Argentina’s celebrity culture last Saturday evening when TV personality and radio show host Natacha Jaitt made a series of explosive accusations on Mirtha Legrand’s TV show, accusing a series of journalists, actors, and other high-profile Argentine personalities of participating in the pedophile ring, most of them as clients.

According to her, political journalists Carlos Pagni, Juan Cruz Sanz, and Alejandro Fantino all participated in it, as well as comedian Enrique Pinti and Buenos Aires City lawmaker Gustavo Vera. Most of them immediately came out to rebuke Jaitt’s statements, and Vera warned that he would be pressing charges against her for slander.

They issued the following rebuttals, vowing to take action against her:

  • Carlos Pagni: “Mirtha Legrand opened her show to be used in a [political] operation,” carried out by clandestine intelligence services.
  • Alejandro Fantino: “The priority right now, aside from [what they said about] me, from this [political] operation, is that the investigation is a success.”
  • Enrique Pinti: “She implicated me as a client, who was not part of a ring… [but rather] a client of people I don’t even know. It is an extremely suspicious behavior [on her part].”

Jaitt’s jaw-dropping statements on the show were universally condemned by the media, especially as she dropped name after name on live television, without providing viewers or the host with any concrete evidence to support her claims. Ignacio Viale, the show’s producer and Mirtha’s grandson, was forced to issue a public apology for inviting her and letting her use the show as a platform for her accusations.

Figures such as Pagni and National Deputy and co-founder of Cambiemos Elisa “Lilita” Carrió have labeled Jaitt’s visit to the show as an “operation” conducted by clandestine intelligence services. In the Argentine political jargon, this refers to attempts to discredit or harm the image of a public figure through the leak of “information” – often false – and its publication in news sites.

Officially, there are no intelligence services other than the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI). But many confirm the existence of parallel agencies who have their own political intentions, or provide their services to whomever wishes to pay for them.  Considering that the AFI itself has a reputation of being extremely shady, it’s common for people to point fingers when suspicious information reaches the public eye.

This didn’t stop Jaitt, though, who doubled down on her claims and warned on Twitter yesterday that she would go to court and provide investigators with all the evidence they need.

“The consumption of human trafficking and pedophilia is very big in the worlds of media and politics. If I unfortunately die trying, I want to let you know that few are innocent and, just in case, I left a USB drive, not at home, but in the hands of an anonymous person, so everything will come to light!”

Regardless of all unfounded accusations prompted by the revelations, Prosecutor Garibaldi says the only confirmed abusers are the ones behind bars. So far, the accusers have not mentioned anyone else. Nonetheless, the investigation is less than two weeks old, and prosecutor Garibaldi told El País that she is convinced more abused and abusers will be revealed: “I have a room full of videos, CDs, and pen drives that we have not been able to analyze yet. We will see what we get from there. And there are a lot of phones we’ve got to cross reference. There is still a lot to discover,” she said.

The issue is set to continue dominating the Argentine media cycle for the foreseeable future.