Cruz Azul scandal boosts Liga MX fiscal facelift

Cruz Azul fan (Photo by /Jam Media/Getty Images)
Cruz Azul fan (Photo by /Jam Media/Getty Images) /
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Liga MX Cruz Azul scandal
Team president Guillermo “Billy” Álvarez (right) finds himself on the hot seat after reports of a joint U.S.-Mexico investigation into his finances emerged. (Photo by Mauricio Salas/Jam Media/Getty Images) /

Allegations of financial mismanagement roil Mexican soccer

Just a few weeks ago, Cruz Azul was holding out hope it could finish out the Clausura with a new trophy. The Cementeros were on an eight-game unbeaten streak and sat atop the Liga MX table with seven games remaining when the season was canceled.

But suddenly, the frustration of a great opportunity gone awasting has been replaced by the shock of a front-office scandal that has prompted whispers of disaffiliation from the league.

Cruz Azul team president Guillermo “Billy” Álvarez is being investigated on suspicion of embezzlement and money laundering. Last week, federal auditors froze Billy’s bank accounts although no formal charges have been filed as yet. Cruz Azul’s bank accounts were also frozen briefly, though it’s possible they are still frozen. There are reports that some team employees did not receive paychecks over the weekend.

The allegations of criminal activity involving one of Mexico’s most popular soccer teams made for splashy headlines over the weekend – and not just in the Sports pages. Criminal charges mentioned include organized crime activities, tax evasion, fraud and money laundering.

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A joint U.S.-Mexico investigation targeting the Cementeros front office revealed transfers of a significant amount of money from Cruz Azul team coffers to U.S. bank accounts in the names of Álvarez and two vice presidents – brother Alfredo and Víctor Garcés.

Billy Álvarez – the longest-tenured team president in Liga MX to date – has been president of the Cruz Azul Co-operative and the soccer franchise since 1988. His reign has featured little success on the field (Cruz Azul’s league title drought will reach 23 years in December), and plenty of controversy in the front office.

Álvarez wiggled out of a jam in 2010 when he beat a organized crime rap linked to allegedly illegal money transfers and off-shore bank accounts.

Over the past decade, Billy has survived several attempts by the Board of Directors to remove him from office. Among the accusations tossed about were a lack of transparency, the misuse of funds, and kickbacks from promoters and sports agents. In 2011, his brother Alfredo twice tried to dethrone him, but Billy beat back the challenge both times.

When reports about the U.S.-Mexico investigation emerged in December, the cooperative was angered to see that Billy had accrued more than 5.6 billion pesos in U.S. bank accounts since 2011. His real estate portfolio (featuring luxury residents in Florida, Nevada, Colorado and Oklahoma) was accumulated through shell companies.

The under fire Álvarez survived two impeachment attempts last year, the last one on Nov. 3, but this latest scandal might force him to abdicate.