Mexican soccer star with alleged ties to drug cartel wreaks havoc for World Cup sponsors

Mexico is one of the biggest stories from the opening round of World Cup play.

El Tri’s stunning upset of Germany Sunday sent reverberations throughout soccer and actual tremors through Mexico City.

As the spotlight shines on Mexico in the run-up to its Saturday match with South Korea, so does it focus on team captain Rafael Márquez, who is wreaking havoc for sponsors thanks to his being blacklisted by the U.S. Treasury department for alleged ties to money laundering for a Mexican drug cartel.

U.S. Treasury department links Márquez to cocaine cartel

Márquez stands accused of being a front for a major drug trafficking operation allegedly headed by Guadalajara businessman Raul Flores Hernandez. The U.S. Treasury claims Márquez has a “longstanding relationship” with Flores and has held assets on his cartel’s behalf. Hernandez has recently been indicted in the United States on charges of cocaine trafficking.

Márquez denies the accusations and has not been criminally charged.

“I categorically deny any type of relationship with said organization and the referred events,” Márquez said in a statement after allegations were made.

But he has been blacklisted, and his assets with ties to the United States have been frozen by the U.S. Treasury, which is making things difficult in Russia.

Sponsors who associate with Rafael Márquez could face stiff penalties after the U.S. Treasury dept. blacklisted the Mexican soccer star for alleged drug ties. (AP)
Sponsors who associate with Rafael Márquez could face stiff penalties after the U.S. Treasury dept. blacklisted the Mexican soccer star for alleged drug ties. (AP)

Sponsors terrified of stiff penalties associated with Márquez

The New York Times detailed a litany of complications stemming from his status that have sponsors avoiding the Mexico star with abandon to avoid risking significant penalties.

The Times spoke with an attorney who specializes in Treasury violations who explained that even an accidental association with Marquez could result in a fine of up to $1.5 million. An intentional association could carry even harsher conswquences.

“The penalties are very severe for this type of thing,” said Oliver Krischik, a lawyer at GKG Law who focuses on Treasury sanctions. Companies that violate the regulations, even unintentionally, face fines up to nearly $1.5 million per violation, while willful breaches can lead to a penalty of up to $10 million and a maximum of 30 years in jail for individuals who knowingly break the rules.

Potential violations for sponsors appear to include any kind of link to the 39-year-old soccer star. At least sponsors are treating it that way.

As his teammates wore three sponsor patches on their jerseys during May practices leading up to the World Cup, Márquez’s black shirt remained logo-free.

In Russia, he avoids drinking from branded water bottles that his teammates use, according to the Times. He avoids hotels that have associations with the United States. He shies away from sponsor logos on the field. If he is the star of a game, Anheuser-Busch InBev, will have to find a way to avoid associating him with its “Budweiser Man of the Match” award, which is put to a public vote.

And, Márquez has agreed to not be paid, according to the Times.

Puma congratulates Márquez for record achievement

The rules for sponsors laid out by the Treasury department guidelines are not clear. But any sniff at the penalties described by Krischik is enough to scare most sponsors away.

But those penalties have not scared away Puma, his personal sponsor who congratulated him on Sunday for his record-tying fifth appearance in World Cup play on Sunday.

Puma is based in Herzogenaurach, Germany and doesn’t face the same disincentive that American-based companies with World Cup ties like Visa and Coca-Cola do.

FIFA has advised broadcasters not to interview Márquez in front of such sponsor logos and told its American employees not to associate with him, the Times reports.

It all seems like an abundance of caution. But with fines of up to $10 million and threats of 30 years in prison, caution seems the prudent choice.

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Mexican star with alleged ties to drug cartels wreaks havoc for sponsors