At least two US prosecutors have been snooping around the Argentine Football Association’s headquarters in Buenos Aires since August 25th, French news agency AFP and Clarín both confirmed this weekend. The AFA is an organization seemingly unable to run its own presidential election and was recently branded a “disaster” by its own star player, Lionel Messi. What classified information could it possibly be keeping?
The prosecutors seem to have been sent by fearsome US Attorney General Loretta Lynch. She is the person most closely associated with “FIFAGate,” the international corruption scandal which hit the governing body of international football in May last year, exacerbating an ongoing political crisis within the ranks of the Argentine Football Association.
The US Justice Department officials are in Buenos Aires to look for information which could accelerate the extradition process of 71-year-old football grandee and ex Conmenbol leader José Luis Meiszner, who has found himself at the center of Argentina’s own “FIFAgate.”
Meiszner first surrendered to Argentine authorities to face corruption charges last December. He has been living freely in Buenos Aires since February, after initially having been granted house arrest due to coronary problems. Since then the extradition process from Argentina to the United States has faced lengthy delays due to procedural issues. La Plata’s litigation chamber is still reviewing the American request he be sent to be tried in a New York court, and it looks like Meiszner’s prosecutors are not satisfied with the pace of the case.
Meiszner, though now in disgrace, spent three decades at the head of Quilmes football club, whose stadium still bears his name, and was until recently both President of the Argentine Football Association and secretary-general of the South American Football Confederation CONMEBOL.
However Argentina’s role in the FIFA corruption scandal goes far beyond the man at its center. Wider judicial and political authorities have also been subject to questioning as part of this visit from the FBI. American prosecutors may be particularly interested in Meizner’s close ties to Aníbal Fernández. The former head of Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s cabinet has been caught up in a scandal over state funding of Argentine football clubs, and the murky sale of Futbol Para Todos (FPT) broadcast rights.
The news of this search is just in the latest in a long stream of AFA news bearing more relation to illicit flows of money and influence than to football itself.