Rincon claims innocence in laundering scam

<img border='0' align='left' title=' ' src=' ' class='caption'> Colombian soccer star Freddy Rincon claimed his innocence in an investigation for alleged money laundering on behalf of a drug trafficker.

Updated: February 25, 2007 11:34 IST
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Colombian soccer great Freddy Rincon claimed his innocence on Wednesday in an investigation by authorities in Panama for alleged money laundering on behalf of a major drug trafficker. Rincon, a businessman residing in Sao Paulo, Brazil, told Caracol Radio that if necessary he would travel to Panama to clear his name. "The first person interested in clearing up this nightmare is me,'' said Rincon, whose injury-time equaliser against West Germany allowed Colombia to advance to the second round of the 1990 World Cup. Rincon is accused by Panama's anti-narcotics police of investing in a fishing company, which operated as a shell to launder drug money for cocaine kingpin Pablo Rayo-Montano. Drug trafficker arrested After being for a decade on the run, the Colombian-born Rayo-Montano was arrested on May 16 in Sao Paulo along with 30 more people in five countries as part of an international bust coordinated by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. Before fleeing to Brazil, Rayo-Montano lived in Panama, where he owned several fishing companies and three islands. These are all part of a multinational drug trafficking empire which authorities believed shipped 15 tons (12.5 metric tons) of cocaine a month to the United States and Europe. Rincon, 39, acknowledged investing $200,000 in a fishing company based in Panama, but he said he had no knowledge it was controlled by Rayo-Montano or his organisation. "Sadly, it was the worst investment I ever made in my life," Rincon said. Extradite Rincon Separately, Panamanian authorities said if necessary they would request Rincon's extradition in order to force him to testify. "We're not presuming he had any direct responsibility. But he is implicated for having lent money to a firm that was clearly being used to launder drug money," said Patricio Candanedo, an anti-narcotics judge in Panama. To clear his name, the official said Rincon must prove that the money he invested, wired from a bank account in Miami, was his own and did not come from the sale of drugs. Rincon said the money he invested came from his earnings during his extended soccer career in Colombia, Spain, Italy and Brazil. A former forward, Rincon scored 17 goals in 84 appearances for Colombia's national team, leading it to three World Cups - in 1990, 1994 and 1998. His most famous moment on the pitch was a last minute, between-the-legs goal, off a pass from Carlos Valderrama, against West Germany to draw 1-1 and send Colombia to the second round of the 1990 World Cup. The draw with Colombia was the only match West Germany failed to win on its way to the championship. (AP)

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