Judge turns down case over suspicious transfers


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -An Argentine judge has dismissed a case brought by the country's tax authorities who are looking into dozens of football player transfers which they suspect violated laws for tax evasion and money laundering.

Federal tax court judge Javier Lopez Biscayart said there is not enough evidence to pursue the case brought by AFIP, the Argentine tax agency. AFIP said Wednesday it planned to appeal the decision once it had been formally notified.

Ricardo Echegaray, head of the tax agency, said in August it was looking into the suspicious transfers as part of a larger nationwide crackdown on tax evasion and money laundering.

The transfers are reported to involve some of Argentina's most famous clubs, including Boca Juniors, River Plate, Racing, San Lorenzo and Independiente.

"The elements presented in the case ... do not support the supposition, not even hypothetically, that a crime has been committed," the judge wrote, according to a court spokesperson. "In some cases, it isn't even shown the players signed contracts with the clubs mentioned in the suit, nor that the alleged transfers took place."

Any attempt to appeal the case could involve officials at the Argentina Football Association, the powerful clubs, player agents and the Argentine government, which owns the television rights to local football and shows all the matches on a free-to-air basis. The government also uses advertising time during the matches to promote the agenda of President Cristina Fernandez.

Many Argentine clubs flirt daily with bankruptcy and depend on television money and player sales to rich European clubs to survive.

The initial ruling could be a setback for Echegaray, who set out examples in August of how local clubs and agents handled some transfers.

Echegaray said a favorite method of tax evasion and money laundering involved three-way transfers.

He used the example of defender Jonathan Bottinelli, who moved from Argentina club San Lorenzo to River Plate earlier this year. Transfer records should him moving to River Plate from Chilean club Union San Felipe. Bottinelli never played at the Chilean club. AFIP said it discovered a fee of $1.7 million in the deal was deposited in a Miami bank account.

Echegaray set out a similar pattern for midfielder Ignacio Piatti. He joined San Lorenzo from Italian team Lecce. However, San Lorenzo records showed him moving from Uruguay club Sud America - where he never played.

The so-called system of "triangulation" was also used in 2006 when striker Gonzalo Higuain moved from River Plate to Real Madrid. Records showed him moving to Madrid from Swiss club Locarno, where he did not play.

In August, Echegaray blacklisted 146 player agents from working legally in Argentina. He said at the time 210 were registered with AFA.

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