An Argentine investigation into players claiming Italian heritage could stem the flow of transfers to Europe, says Rodrigo Orihuela

In 2003, Leganés, a small Segunda División club from the suburbs of Madrid, made headlines by signing 16 Argentine players, most of whom held EU passports (Spanish clubs are permitted to field a maximum of three players from countries outside the EU). Results were bad and the Argentine businessman who bankrolled the team dropped out at mid-season, with most of the players leaving by year’s end. The Leganés case was the most extreme illustration yet of how the Bosman ruling has brought about an influx into Europe of South America players claiming EU citizenship.

Now, a court case in Buenos Aires indicates that the use of fake EU passports may be rampant in Argentina. In mid-July, judge Norberto Oyarbide ordered 120 raids on clubs, government and agents’ offices. On August 22, the offices of the Argentine FA and the country’s two biggest clubs, Boca Juniors and River Plate, were among a further 45 places receiving visits from investigators. 

A turning point in the inquiry had come on July 29, when the Italian consul to Buenos Aires, Giancarlo Curcio, handed in evidence that hundreds of passports had been granted by the consulate in recent years thanks to fake documents and forged legal stamps. A previous legal complaint filed by Curcio had started the probe and led Oyarbide to name 40 suspects in the investigation; ten were subsequently cleared, but 30 others were indicted.

The suspected ring leader is a woman called María Elena Tedaldi, who owns a company with offices next to the consulate and specialises in doing paperwork for people who want to obtain Italian passports. Tedaldi was a leading suspect in the criminal case that involved Juan Sebastián Verón during his first stint in Italy in 2000, a year before his move to Manchester United. At the time, Verón tried to get an Italian passport but a court ruled the alleged paternal ancestors who would enable him to claim it had never existed. Tedaldi had managed Verón’s paperwork.

Verón is involved in Oyarbide’s investigation, but he is not alone. In fact, he is in quite illustrious company: among the players suspected of holding false Italian citizenship are a number of current and former national-team players, such as Real Madrid’s Fernando Gago, former Argentina skipper Juan Pablo Sorín and Atlético Madrid’s Maxi Rodríguez. One hundred and fifty players are named in the investigation, out of a total of roughly 300 with suspect passports.

However, a key figure is the lesser known Juan Pablo Carrizo, a 23-year-old goalkeeper recently sold by River Plate to Lazio. When the negotiation to sell Carrizo started, he was going to move to Italy on an Italian passport, which he never obtained because he was found not to be eligible. He ended up being sold on an Argentine passport. Court sources say Carrizo’s attempt to obtain Italian papers prove how Tedaldi’s scam operated. It relied on testimonies by witnesses who Oyarbide says are too young to have been alive at the time of the events they testified to recall – such as the origin of the keeper’s ancestors and the date when they supposedly moved to Argentina from Europe.

Footballers are not, however, the central focus of Oyarbide’s probe. The main suspects are the people hired to speed up the process – government workers in Argentina and Italy, and football agents, some 40 of whom are being investigated. Three of Argentina’s most powerful agents are among them – Gustavo Mascardi (who represents Roberto Ayala and Andrés D’Alessandro, among others), Fernando Hidalgo (agent of Verón and Hernán Crespo, and a partner of the Israeli Pini Zahavi in the HAZ Sports agency) and Jorge Cyterszpiller (Diego Maradona’s first ever agent, who is involved because he brokered the sale from Independiente to Napoli of Germán Denis). All three are expected to be summoned to testify in upcoming days.

The fake-passports outfit is believed to have made more than €6 million (£5m) in the ten years or so it has operated. Each false citizenship reportedly costs €20,000. Getting the passport through Tedaldi’s private office had an extra bonus: it would take only about 30 days, when the process ­normally requires as long as four years.

A major element in it all has been the tiny southern Italian town of Fagnano Castello, which has a population of 4,200. This Calabrian municipality became famous when Verón claimed his ancestors originally came from there. Apparently, descendants of inhabitants of Fagnano Castello are very likely to become successful Argentine footballers, as it is one of the most common places to which the players involved in the probe trace their origins.

From WSC 260 October 2008

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