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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Mexico football captain denies links to drug cartel

Rafael Marquez, who also played for FC Barcelona, was blacklisted by the US on Wednesday

Mexican footballer Rafael Marquez, centre, arrives to give a press conference to deny accusations of ties to drug trafficking, at Atlas Football Club in Guadalajara, Mexico, on August 9, 2017. Refugio Ruiz / AP Photo
Mexican footballer Rafael Marquez, centre, arrives to give a press conference to deny accusations of ties to drug trafficking, at Atlas Football Club in Guadalajara, Mexico, on August 9, 2017. Refugio Ruiz / AP Photo

The captain of Mexico's football team has denied US accusations of links to a major drug trafficking organisation.

Rafael Marquez, who is also a former FC Barcelona player, voluntarily reported to the Mexican justice ministry after the US treasury said he had acted as a "front person" for a drug trafficking group controlled by businessman Raul Flores Hernandez and had held assets on its behalf.

"I categorically deny any type of relationship with said organisation and the referred events," the football star said in a statement.

Marquez was one of 22 people and 43 entities the US treasury placed on a sanctions list in relation to the Guadalajara-based drug trafficking group. Also named on the blacklist on Wednesday were Mr Flores and members of his family, business associates, and Latin Grammy-nominated singer Julion Alvarez.

US officials said Mr Flores, who was indicted in Washington, DC and California in March on charges of cocaine trafficking, flew under the radar for years by operating in strategic alliances with the heads of the more notorious Sinaloa cartel and another, the Jalisco New Generation cartel. Mexican authorities said they arrested him last month.

The US announcement rocked the Mexican football world where Marquez, popularly known as Rafa, is a legend at 38 after making his debut for the national team in February 1997 and then leading the team in the last four World Cups.

He was a young star for the Atlas club before moving to AC Monaco in 1999. Four years later he signed with Barcelona, becoming the first Mexican player to win a Champions League final with the team's victory over Arsenal in 2006. The defender spent another four injury-marred years with the team before being released in 2010.

After that he spent two years with the Red Bulls of US Major League Soccer, and then joined Mexico's Club Leon, and most recently played for Atlas again.

The US statement gave no details on Marquez's alleged actions on behalf of Mr Flores. But the chief executive of Marquez's charity foundation, Mauricio Heredia Horner, was also blacklisted, according to its Facebook page.