BUENOS AIRES, May 4, 2018 – Argentinian football is in deep shock after finding out that a paedophile sex ring was operating inside one of the major clubs, Independiente, and possibly extending its tentacles to other teams.
The network tried to identify vulnerable children and teenagers from Independiente’s academy, and offer them a chance to earn money by introducing them to adults.
It is still unclear how the big the child abuse network was, but there could be as many as 500 victims, with 7 of them being young footballers from Independiente.
So far 7 people, including an assistant referee from Argentina’s Superliga, Martin Bustos were arrested. Bustos, who is HIV positive, is now formally charged with child sex abuse and child prostitution, and could sentenced to up to 20 years in jail. His lawyer, Tomas Beldi, was also charged after smashing his defendant’s phone with a hammer, in order to erase evidence. Bustos’ father was convicted for child sex abuse in the past.
Leonardo Cohen Arazi, a relatively famous man, specialist in PR and with many links in politics and media, was also arrested and accused of child abuse. Juan Manuel Diaz Vallone, who organised child football tournaments, and Alejandro Del Cin, football agent (56 years old) were also arrested last month. A 24-year-old, who is understood to be a client, is also in custody.
Investigation is now pointing to AFA officials and other clubs, but no arrests have been made so far.
The case emerged when one footballer from the club’s youth ranks broke in tears while speaking to the academy’s psychologist, Ariel Ruiz. With a confirmed victim, the psychologist made new interviews and discovered that it was not an isolated case.
The facilitator between the youngsters and the sex ring was another player of the academy, and possibly former victim of abuse, who was playing for the 4th Division, the last one before being promoted to the first team.
The club decided to provide full cooperation to the prosecutor’s office, publishing a statement offering broad support and full cooperation to the authorities. Later, academy’s general coordinator pointed that “no player had left the club” since the scandal emerged.
With a vast territory of nearly 3 million square kilometres, but nearly 70 percent of the clubs based in the city of Buenos Aires, it is common to see that kids from all over the country are forced to flee their homes between 10 and 12 while pursuing a career in football.
The “pension”, as it is usually referred in Spanish, usually depicts a few dormitories with bunk beds, a dining area and shared bathrooms. Players between 12 and 18 share the facilities and coexist under the club’s rules.
The kids’ parents are forced to sign a tutorship agreement with the clubs, that in return promise to take care of their children, send them to school, feed them and set a 8pm curfew so they can keep track of them.
Pensiones are full of vulnerable children. Crying while missing their families is part of the everyday life. Several famous players, like Pablo Aimar or Paulo Dybala, had to test their personalities by living in a club’s ‘pension’.
There is almost no press access (and not much interest) and few people have the chance of really checking the living conditions of the kids.
Sadly, this was the perfect environment to try to identify potential victims and drag them to the child prostitution ring. Most of the kids dream to play in Argentina’s top-flight, save their families from a poor background, and would rather stay in silence not to jeopardise their developing careers.
To avoid suspicions and not bend the academy rules, most of the sex encounters were made during the afternoon, the local prosecutor of Avellaneda’s UFI4, Maria Jose Garibaldi, has found out. Footballers were taken in a private taxi to a shopping mall, and from there offered another taxi ride to private houses where their clients would be waiting.
After the sessions, they would return to the mall and from there, were taken to the club pension, before the 8 pm curfew.
There was a daily rate depending on the services, which started with something as low as 200 pesos, the equivalent of 10 Dollars, and went up to 1000 (50 Dollars).
The perverse members of the sex rings then shared filmed material between each other, a fact that will help prosecutor Garibaldi to understand who were the ones involved.
Last Friday, two current professional players, one that was sold last year, were mentioned by journalist Gustavo Grabia on TV channel TyC Sports as potential victims, as they were mentioned in one of the witness statements. This scoop prompted a fierce reaction from other journalists and personalities. Victims’ identities should always be safeguarded. It is the child sex abusers who need to be exposed. Grabia apologised to the players and their families.
After beating Corinthians in Brazil for the Copa Libertadores, midfielder Martin Benitez could not avoid tears. In front of the cameras, in the post-match interview, he said: “I’ve had a horrible time in these last hours. There is people that hurt you without realising. I only want to play, but it’s hard to concentrate with everything that is being said on social media, that affected me and my family”.
“It always happened”
A World Cup champion in 1978 and former Independiente player and manager, Daniel Bertoni admitted that “things like these always happened in Argentinian football.” He was asked to testify in this case, but could not provide specific details.
“There were always rumours of networks and prostitution, but the lucky thing here is that one kid broke himself and admitted it, otherwise this would have kept going on and on,” Bertoni said. Over 100 statements were already registered, with more yet to come.
Former Independiente president, Javier Cantero, also mentioned the name of one former federal judge, Norberto Oyarbide, as someone that called at least three times asking him to meet the players from the academy, claiming he had completed an oratory course and could encourage them. Oyarbide denied the accusations. “In Argentina, to be a judge and a homosexual appears to be incompatible, but I know that I’m a marked man, for what happened in Spartacus”. Spartacus was a brothel in which he was filmed during the 1990s. The investigation only appears to be in its preliminary stages. How big the child sex abuse network is remains unclear.