Cali (Colombia) (AFP) – Former Colombia international Jhon Viafara has been arrested on suspicion of drug trafficking and could be extradited to face charges in the United States, the public prosecutor’s office said on Wednesday.
The 40-year-old former midfielder was one of five people detained on Tuesday in the western city of Jamundi and Medellin, in the north west, in a joint operation between the public prosecutor’s office and the judicial police.
“According to investigations conducted by US authorities, the detainees were part of a transnational network that had links to the Clan del Golfo criminal structure,” said the public prosecutor, referring to the infamous drug cartel.
Viafara is suspected of having sent cocaine in speedboats and semi-submersible vessels from Colombia to the US via Central America from 2008 to 2018.
He was allegedly known in the group as the “Footballer” and was in charge of paying transporters and establishing contacts to send the shipments to Central America.
Police said they seized 2.5 tons of cocaine worth $28 million from Viafara’s group in 2017 and 2018.
All five detainees are subject to an extradition request by the US state of Texas, where they’re wanted for drug trafficking.
Viafara played one season in the English Premier League for Portsmouth and after a loan spell with Spaniards Real Sociedad, also represented Southampton in the Championship for two seasons.
He had made his name in his homeland, scoring a goal as Once Caldas beat Argentina giants Boca Juniors in the 2004 Copa Libertadores final.
He played more than 40 times for Colombia, scoring once, and appeared for his country at the Copa America in 2004 and 2007.
He retired in 2015 after almost 20 years as a player.
He’s not the first Colombian footballer to be caught up in a drug trafficking scandal.
Former full back Diego Leon Osorio was sentenced in February to five years of house arrest for trying to traffick a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cocaine to Spain.
Last year, former Real Madrid and Napoli midfielder Freddy Rincon was exonerated in a drug trafficking and money-laundering case in Panama.
Colombia is the world’s biggest producer of cocaine, much of which is destined for the lucrative US market.
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