Last night, police arrested Alberto Amadeo Ponce, a manager of football academy players, suspected of being involved in the numerous cases of abuse of children playing for football club Independiente, which were uncovered in late March. Ponce, who is known in the football scene as “rey de reyes” (‘king of kings.’ No, it’s not a joke), also owns academies for young amateur players(known as escuelitas in Spanish).
Ponce is suspected of having committed the crime of grooming, punishable with a prison sentence of between one and four years, which was recently added to the criminal code. Grooming was previously considered to be a preparatory act that had the ulterior goal of committing a crime, but was not designated a crime on its own. The act of grooming a child may include activities that are legal, like contacting them on social media, but later lead to sexual contact.
Speaking to press after the events, Buenos Aires Province’s Attorney General, Julio Conte Grand, said “we are confirming an initial presumption, in the sense that this is an extremely large case due to the amount of victims and criminals.” Moreover, he explained there are existing ties between all the suspects, but that so far there is no evidence they all formed part of a ring. “They passed along information to each other” regarding children who could be vulnerable to their intentions, he added.
As part of the same operation, police also raided seven properties to gather potentially relevant evidence for the investigation. One of those places was a telo – a sort of hotel where people pay for rooms by the hour or for the entire night, usually with the sole purpose of having sex. Police suspects some of the abuses were committed there, and could have even been filmed. An apartment in the neighborhood of Palermo was also raided, as it was subject of the same hypothesis.
The scandal erupted in late March after a teenager playing for one of Independiente’s youth academies told his team coordinator what was going on.
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 the childrens’ 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 issue is set to continue dominating the Argentine media cycle for the foreseeable future.