Ex-Chelsea and Atletico Madrid star Diego Costa has had his home in Brazil raided by police as they investigate an alleged criminal scheme involving wide-scale financial fraud, according to reports.
Now plying his trade at Brazilian Serie A leaders Atletico Mineiro, Costa is said to be of interest to police in his home state of Sergipe some 1,000 miles to the northeast of Belo Horizonte.
As part of “Operation Distraction”, federal police there have investigated a criminal enterprise that has allegedly laundered money, committed foreign exchange fraud, and exploited games of chance with a gambling website, Esportenet, at its forefront.
Police confirmed that “in the first phase of the operation, which began on March 3 this year, documents and electronic equipment were seized that allowed the investigation to be deepened and the amount of R$13,129,217.00 ($2.4 million) in cash was seized.
“Based on the evidence collected,” it continued, “it was possible to identify other betting platforms used by the group and individual companies and legal entities for alleged money laundering and foreign exchange fraud.
“The participation of money changers that help the criminal organization to allegedly commit foreign exchange fraud was verified, as well as the participation of a football player who is allegedly the financier of the criminal scheme,” police added.
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The striker’s legal team deny the accusations after his house was one of the addresses where Sergipe police reportedly appeared with search warrants this week.
Operation Distraction has been underway since the beginning of the year, some months before Atlético and Costa concluded their negotiations for him to join in August.
For this, the club, known as Galo, are distancing themselves from the scandal but have in any event appointed a criminal lawyer to avoid taking risks and monitor the case.
“The facts reported do not concern the Club; they were not public knowledge, nor (the knowledge of) the institution (because they are investigations); and they predate the athlete’s arrival at Atlético,” a statement read.
“Nevertheless, Atlético is finding out about what can possibly occur to give, if it is in the athlete’s interest, all the support that is necessary.”
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Domestic media giant globoesporte has also managed to contact one of Costa’s legal team, who protested that his client is innocent and will voluntarily present himself to the federal police to testify.
Aurelio Belem admitted that Costa’s Sergipe home was raided, but added that nothing was seized so as to try and exonerate the former Spain international.
“Absolutely nothing has been seized,” stressed Belem. “And it couldn’t have been any different, [because] after all, the player has no connection with any criminal scheme that might be suggested.
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“We talked at length with the player today. He will spontaneously present himself to the PF to provide the necessary clarifications,” Belem concluded.
This isn’t the first time Costa has had a run-in with the law.
In June last year, he received a six-month suspended jail term and was hit with a $580,000 fine in Spain over a multimillion-dollar image rights fraud.