One year ago, a major scandal erupted at the Independiente football club when shocking revelations detailing systematic sexual abuse of youth players at the legendary club’s official accommodation facilities.
In a matter of mere weeks, further allegations came to light involving the iconic River Plate football club, with authorities also investigating a potential case at a third football club. The scandal then took another dark twist, with the national gymnastics squad also coming under scrutiny over allegations that officials there abused underage team members.
Adding to the string of allegations, explosive and unsubstantiated claims were then aired one of Argentina’s most famous television shows, when guest Natacha Jaitt accused several people – including high-profile journalists and politicians – of being involved in a paedophilia ring.
Today, if we focus on Independiente, the source of the original allegations, the criminal case remains at the investigative stage and several pieces of evidence are still outstanding, both technological and psychological.
Experts will begin analysing defendants’ telephones only now in the coming weeks, while three of the victims must undertake psychological and psychiatric testing with sexual abuse experts.
Meanwhile, three of the six accused are free.
Probe in Avellaneda
The case is being investigated by the Fourth Prosecutors’ Office of the City of Avellaneda, on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, by Prosecutor María Soledad Garibaldi.
Among the 15 alleged victims are boys who were then aged between 15 and 18 years old, who played for Independiente's youth division in Avellaneda.
A casefile was opened on March 21, 2018 when the manager of the youth accommodation facilities of the club lodged a complaint with police about comments made to the club’s psychologist by one of the young players that multiple men had paid the players for sex.
The accused include Martín Bustos, the club’s goalkeeper; publicist Leonardo Cohen Arazi; student Silvio Fleytas; the manager of properties Alejandro Dal Chin; tournament organiser Juan Manuel Díaz Vallone and agent and player's representative Alberto Pone.
The case is at the investigation stage “so that all necessary measures are taken to clarify the incidents.” This means, it’s at the evidence-gathering stage including testimonies and forensics that will determine the physical proof needed to take the case to trial.
The victims and witnesses have already provided their testimonies to the prosecution but psychological and psychiatric is still needed to determine if their statements are credible and consistent.
Several psychological and psychiatric meetings are scheduled for next month, according to sources close to the case.
Meanwhile, the information investigators can draw from defendants’ mobile phones could also provide valuable evidence in the case.
The contact between the accused and their alleged victims initially took place via social media platforms, Prosecutor Garibaldi said last year.
“The telephones of the defendants were sent for analysis, which is manual and tedious”, sources close to the case confirmed.
“The most important thing is to obtain the results of these analyses”, they added.
The scandal surrounding Independiente broke when goalkeeper Bustos was detained at his home in El Talar de Bacheco, on March 24 last year.
There, officers from the Buenos Aires Police force found his mobile phone smashed on a table, prompting the arrest of his lawyer Carlos Beldi, who was subsequently released.
The last man to be arrested was Alberto Ponce, who was accused of orchestrating the grooming of the boys but was later charged on one count of sexual abuse.
The prosecutor determined the case involved “a network of abusers who contacted the youth players of Independiente to agree to sexual encounters in exchange for money.”
Garibaldi added that “the accused adults made the most of the vulnerability of the boys who were not with their families and had left their home provinces to reach their football dreams in Avellaneda”.
In September last year, the case faced a set back when the First Chamber of the Lomas de Zamora Appeals Court conceded to a request by the defence team representing three of the accused, allowing the release of Bustos, Cohen Arazi and ponte.
They had been charged and detained under preventative arrest warrants for “aggravated sexual abuse and the corruption of minors.”
But the appeals judges found that the “abuse had not been proven” and changed the casefile to “corruption of minors,” meaning the charges were dropped from five to three years in prison.
Bustos and Cohen Arazi spent six months in the 40th Penitentiary Unit in Lomaz de Zamora. Ponte spent 15 days less behind bars than his colleagues.
For their part, Fleytas, Dal Cin and Díaz Vallone remain behind bars at the Departmental Prison of Lomas de Zamora.
The tree of them are in the same wing but sleep in different cells.
This article originally appeared in Spanish on Perfil.com