Former Barcelona star denies links to Mexican drugs kingpin

Champions league winner Rafael Marquez among those named by the US as having links to Raul Flores

Rafael Marquez
Rafael Marquez
(Image credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Former Barcelona star Rafael Marquez, a two-time Champions League winner and captain of the Mexican football team, has denied fronting a well-known drugs cartel.

Marquez was one of 22 people and 42 organisations publicly identified by the US treasury department for sanctions having been accused of having links to alleged drug trafficker Raul Flores Hernandez.

According to a US treasury department statement, the 38-year-old Marquez and the other 21 people named in the list have a "longstanding relationships with Flores Hernandez... acted as front persons for him and his DTO [drug-trafficking organisation] and held assets on their behalf".

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The news has stunned Mexico where Marquez - known to fans as Rafa - is revered for his exploits on the football field. He has appeared in four World Cups - the most recent in Brazil in 2014 - and has won more than 140 caps since making his debut in 1997. In addition, the defender has played for Monaco and Barcelona and was a member of the Spanish side's Champions League-winning squad against Arsenal in 2006 and Manchester United in 2009. He returned to Mexico in 2015 and currently captains Atlas in Liga MX.

As a result of the treasury department's ruling, reports the BBC, the assets of Marquez and his co-accused, who also include popular singer Julio Cesar Alvarez, that are "under US jurisdiction or controlled by people in the US would be frozen".

Marquez, who made a voluntary declaration before the Mexican attorney general's office on Wednesday, has denied the allegations and in a press conference promised to clear his name.

"Today is my toughest game," Marquez declared. "I categorically deny any type of relation with this organisation and with what has been stated in several news reports. I understand the legal situation that I find myself in and I will immediately work on clearing up the facts alongside my team of attorneys… I reiterate that I have never participated in any of these organisations that have been mentioned in these reports, and want to reiterate my duty to assist the various authorities and corresponding governments in a punctual manner."

ESPN reports that alleged kingpin Flores Hernandez was arrested on 20 July and his extradition to the USA is pending. He allegedly operated independently in the northern city of Guadalajara "but maintained alliances with the Sinaloa and Jalisco New Generation cartels".

John E Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the treasury department's statement that Flores Hernandez "has operated for decades because of his longstanding relationships with other drug cartels and his use of financial front persons to mask his investments of illegal drug proceeds".

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