Argentina's top football clubs searched in graft probe

Supporters of Boca Juniors cheer for their team before the Argentine First Division football match against Velez Sarsfield, at the Bombonera stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina

BUENOS AIRES - Authorities launched searches Wednesday at 23 top Argentine football clubs, including River Plate and Boca Juniors, in a probe over allegations they may have received kickbacks after granting the government TV broadcast rights.

Judge Maria Servini de Cubria is trying to determine if fraud was perpetrated or kickbacks received when President Cristina Kirchner's government took control of televising national football matches as part of its popular Football for Everybody (FPT) programme, a court source told AFP privately.

Kirchner created FPT in 2009 when her centre-left government wrested match broadcast rights from the TyC and TSC networks, which had cable rights, and secured the cooperation of the Argentine Football Association (AFA) with the plan.

"The searches were restricted in scope to (information related to) Football for Everybody," the source said, adding that accounting books were seized at club headquarters.

Lawmaker Graciela Ocana, a former health minister who broke with Kirchner and moved to the opposition, triggered the probe by raising questions about why - as the government's budget to fund FPT surged - clubs around the country claim still to be in the red.

FPT makes it possible for everyone in football-mad Argentina to see all local league matches and national side matches for free - as well as a Boca-River "clasico" match.

The national football association headquarters in Buenos Aires was searched in August, and "officials there insist all the (Football for Everybody) funds all went to the clubs." Wednesday's search list included First Division clubs, including San Lorenzo; Velez Sarsfield; All Boys; Tigre; Independiente; Racing Club; Arsenal; Quilmes; Banfield; Lanus; Estudiantes; and Gimnasia La Plata.

Authorities are looking at any involvement from Kirchner's chief of staff, Jorge Capitanich, and his predecessors Juan Manuel Abal Medina and Anibal Fernandez, the source added.