The U.S. Treasury Department has imposed sanctions on the Mexican soccer star Rafael "Rafa" Marquez.
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Marquez has been targeted, along with more than 20 others including the popular singer Julion Alvarez, for alleged links with an accused drug kingpin.
Marquez is accused of financial ties with Raul Flores Hernandez, a suspected trafficker with links to the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation gang.
The U.S. Treasury Department said the designation was "the largest single Kingpin Act action against a Mexican drug cartel network that OFAC (the Office of Foreign Assets Control) has designated."
"Raul 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," OFAC Director John E. Smith said in a statement, calling the move a "major joint action" with Mexico.
Marquez appeared voluntarily in the Mexican attorney general’s office to make a statement, the attorney general’s office in a news release.
The office added that it was working closely with the Treasury Department in an ongoing investigation.
Marquez, who hails from the state of Michoacan, played in Europe for club sides FC Barcelona and Monaco, and still occasionally captains the Mexican national team, having represented his country in four World Cup soccer tournaments.
According to documents on the Treasury’s website, Marquez was linked to Flores Hernandez’s organization via a football school called Escuela de Futbol Rafael Marquez as well as various other sports and health outfits.
Marquez’s current team, Club Atlas in Guadalajara, could not immediately be reached for comment by Reuters news agency.
The U.S. Treasury said it had sanctioned 43 entities linked to Flores Hernandez’s holdings, from sectors including sport, hospitality and tourism and health.
Julio Cesar Alvarez, more commonly known as Julion Alvarez, is a popular "banda" singer. In a folksy video posted to his official Facebook page, Alvarez, 34, rejected the accusations against him.
"Everything I have, I’ve earned," he said. "I dedicated myself to making music, and thank God, I don’t have the necessity to do many of the things they’re accusing me of."
He added that he knew Marquez, and may invite him to join forces legally to defend themselves against the accusations.
In an awkward twist, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto had posted a photo of himself with Alvarez to his Instagram page this week, but deleted it just before news of the sanctions against Alvarez broke.
A spokesman from the president’s office declined to comment on why the photo was deleted.
The news that Marquez had been linked to the drug trade, even peripherally, was met with disbelief in Mexico.
His career at Barcelona was a source of pride for Mexican football fans, proof that Mexico produces world-class players.