Page last updated at 03:42 GMT, Sunday, 13 July 2008 04:42 UK

Passport scandal hits Argentina

By Daniel Schweimler
BBC News, Buenos Aires

Forged passport (file photo)
Argentinean police made 40 arrests over forged passports

The authorities in Argentina say they have uncovered a multi-million dollar operation in forged Italian passports.

Many of those being investigated are professional footballers.

It is thought they use the false passports to overcome the limit on the number of non-European Union foreigners playing in the Italian league.

The scandal came to light when the Italian consul in Buenos Aires did not recognise the signatures on Italian passports issued there.

A judge, Norberto Oyarbide, launched an investigation which resulted in hundreds of police raids across Argentina.

It's not only footballers who are benefiting from the scandal, officials say - but in football-mad Argentina, which has hundreds of players playing abroad, they are the ones attracting the attention.

There is a limit on the number of non-European Union nationals who can play for each club - but claiming Italian nationality is one way around that rule.

Many Argentines, and therefore Argentine footballers, have Italian ancestry.

However, they can get an illegal passport in a few days for $30,000 (15,000) - while the official one could take several months, or even years.

The spotlight is also shining on the small southern Italian village of Fagnano Castello, since several of the false documents named it as the birthplace of the great-grandparents of a number of the Argentine footballers being investigated.

Country profile: Argentina
01 Apr 08 |  Country profiles

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