ERIC WEIL in BUENOS AIRES: Eight years ago Martin Gonzalo Acro, a member of a River Plate hooligan gang commonly known as the Borrachos del Tablon (Drunkards of the Stands) was killed in an internal dispute, probably over money.

Four years later a court condemned seven members of the gang, including leaders brothers Alan and William Schlenker, to life imprisonment. This verdict has to be confirmed by the federal supreme court before anyone will even come close to being imprisoned. One of them, Ariel Luna, had claimed he was offered 600,000 pesos to take all the blame, a story which did not impress the judge.

Martin Gonzalo Acro . . . wearing his sash of pride

Four more years have passed and the court ruling has still not been ratified. Last year it was announced that a ruling would be passed in May. The month came and went and still no ruling. Meanwhile, the condemned  men are still free. Why? Because they are soccer hooligans and perhaps in the end may never go to jail.

In June 2011, when River Plate were defeated by Belgrano (Córdóba) in the vital match which meant River Plate’s relegation to the national second division for the first time, a group of the club`s hooligans went to pressure the referee at half-time.

Referee threatened

The group were caught on CCTV as they headed to the referee’s dressing room and were later identified yet the judge appointed to the case did not charge them. Of course, because they were hooligans.

Phone tapping proved that two club officials – one of them vice-president Diego Turnes – were involved in organising the intimidation. They never went to trial.

A lawsuit against River officials for not selling tickets to their members, while giving them to hooligans to sell them on the black market for a River-Boca classic and other crimes, never progressed because the judge, after collecting all the evidence, was removed from the case by a higher court.

A similar case occurred at Boca Juniors where Judge Manuel de Campos was investigating an illicit organisation of hooligans and club officials (which could be found at most clubs).

After collating evidence he was removed from the case at the request of an official whom he had already indicted. He was restored to the case in early June, but perhaps with special instructions, and the case has not advanced.

Bans have been imposed on some Barras Bravas from entering the stadium to prevent fighting between them but these are always hooligans who do not belong to what are considering the ‘official gang’.

Rafael Di Zeo, who has squirmed out of trial after trial, is one notorious hooligans not belonging to an ‘official’ gang and who has had his stadium ban lifted.

Last year’s fighting between rival hooligans inside the River Plate club between the ‘official’ and ‘unofficial’ gangs over tickets is also going to trial but the judge is trying to decide the type of crime for which the hooligans could go to jail.

In 2002, a group of Racing Club hooligans attacked Independiente fans before the Avellaneda classic. They killed one Independiente fan. It took eight years before 24 of the hooligans were sent to trial, but there is no news on how it is progressing … if at all.

Mustard gas attack

A new trick was the spraying by Boca hooligans of mustard gas on River Plate players as they came out for the second half. The match, goalless at the time, was abandoned as the players were in no condition to play.

Panadero Napolitano – the main suspect, although there are others involved — and  three more hooligans have been handed three-year suspended jail sentences.

Boca lost the points for the match. Hence speculation persists that the gas spraying was undertaken to spite the Boca committee which would not give the hooligans enough free tickets.

Mustard gas attacks have now become almost popular. Quilmes players were attacked during a friendly match in Bolivia; the tough Mendoza police attacked rival Cordoba team Belgrano with it in a league match; then a Huracan hooligan threw mustard gas on the field in an under-12s match.

These are but a handful of examples of hooliganism court cases which go around in circles. Is there are unwritten law to protect hooligans?

Or, to put it another way, on which side of the court bench do the real hooligans sit?