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Russian soccer and hockey clubs are increasingly signing contracts with foreign athletes who have been convicted of crimes or are under investigation abroad. The trend has seen teams bolster their rosters with individuals who might not have considered moving to Russia under ordinary circumstances. Such players benefit from the absence of a reputation watchdog, securing lucrative deals in the Russian Premier League and the Kontinental Hockey League. Meanwhile, opportunities in Europe or North America may pose risks or remain out of reach for them.

Content
  • “You make it sound as if he killed twenty girls”: Chilean striker who brutally beat a woman

  • “We didn't consider the ethical side at all”: Dutchman responsible for a child's death in a car accident

  • “He views himself as untouchable”: Dutch international who trafficked cocaine

  • “A player of this caliber was a godsend”: The American who attacked police officers

  • Hunting down criminals

  • What sports officials are saying

RU

“You make it sound as if he killed twenty girls”: Chilean striker who brutally beat a woman

In January 2024, FC Orenburg signed 19-year-old forward Jordhy Thompson from Chilean club Colo-Colo. The young South American's loan move to a team in the bottom half of the Russian Premier League would not have attracted much attention had it not been for one detail: back home, the footballer was accused of attempted murder.

Jordhy Thompson
Jordhy Thompson

In November 2023, Thompson's ex-girlfriend Camila Sepulveda reported him to the police, accusing him of brutally beating her out of jealousy, and also of attempting to strangle her. This incident was a repeat offense — the previous spring, Camila twice accused Thompson of violence. At least one publicized video showed him striking her in a nightclub.

Colo-Colo, one of the most successful clubs in the Chilean Primera División, condemned its player and suspended him from first-team training for several weeks. The court issued Thompson a restraining order to help protect the victim. However, in August, the couple was seen together again, and in October, the footballer posted a story together with the girl, captioning it: “Life always gives a second chance. I love you.”

Events then unfolded quickly. On November 6, the promising forward was arrested on the suspicion that he had attempted to strangle Sepulveda. After an initial decision to hold him in pre-trial detention for 45 days, the court agreed to permit a regime of house arrest. Then on December 19, Thompson's side secured a six-month postponement of the trial — along with the agreement that he could leave the country under a bail of 100 million pesos (approximately $111,500). On January 3, Orenburg announced the signing of player’s loan documents.

Thompson did not have the money for bail, and the footballer's lawyer, Jose Mendoza, stated that someone else would have put up the funds. Mendoza expressed dissatisfaction with the court’s decision, as he had never encountered such a sum in his practice. However, a solution was found: to post the bail and thus obtain permission for Thompson to leave Chile, his agent's apartment was mortgaged.

To post the bail for Thompson and obtain permission for him to leave, his agent's apartment was mortgaged

“I think in any decision-making process, the welfare and safety of the woman should be prioritized over the footballer's career,” Chilean Minister for Women and Gender Equality Antonia Orellana reacted to the decision. “In such cases, there is a high risk of recurrence. Of course, now that he will be half a world away, the risk is reduced. But violence against women is the third most common crime at the national level, severely limiting our country's development.”

Thompson's criminal history was widely discussed in Russia due to a particularly strange comment from Orenburg's sports director Dmitry Andreev, who in January was asked directly if the club was bothered by the Chilean's background. It turned out they were not:

“Thompson's dark side? Who doesn't have one? We've heard about the issues with his girlfriend. You make it sound as if he killed twenty girls. We are not worried about Orenburg's reputation. Well, who hasn't been there? We didn't look into him closely. We understood that if there were no problems with his girlfriend, we wouldn't be able to afford such a player. When this situation arose, we jumped at the chance,” Andreev explained in an interview with Sport24.

Without his legal troubles, Thompson could have continued to build his career at Colo-Colo — or even aimed for a move to a stronger European league — believes coach Gualberto Jara, who worked for Spanish clubs Racing de Santander and Rayo Vallecano before returning to Chile in 2018.

“Thompson always impressed with his versatility and character, not just his technical skills, but also his resilience,” Jara said in a conversation with The Insider. “In games, his temperament proved beneficial. However, legal issues significantly hindered his career when he had just started with Colo-Colo's main team. It appears he wasn't mentally prepared for this setback. Ultimately, this mistake derailed his career's beginning and closed off direct opportunities in top European leagues.”

In other words, Thompson’s temporary new Russian squad is lucky to have a player of his caliber. In its nearly 50-year history, Orenburg has only spent five seasons in the elite division of Russian football. The club first entered the Russian Premier League (RPL) in the 2016/17 season, experienced two relegations, and made two subsequent returns to the top flight. The peak of its achievements, marked by a 7th place finish in 2019, coincided with significant sponsorship from the local Gazprom subsidiary. The club’s board of trustees includes several representatives from the company, including its deputy general director for economics and finance, Evgeny Lobachev. Orenburg FC chairman Vasily Eremyakin, who is also deputy general director of Gazprom Dobycha Orenburg, admitted in January that he was still concerned about the new player's case: “That's why we're taking him on loan until the end of the season. We will educate him.”

For Orenburg, fighting for survival in the RPL all season, Thompson certainly provided a needed on-field reinforcement: he started in all league matches, scoring two goals (one in the Russian Cup). Even when signing the contract, the club stated that they would decide on exercising the buyout option included in the loan agreement at the end of the season.

The Insider sent a request to FC Orenburg. No response was received by the time of publication.

“We didn't consider the ethical side at all”: Dutchman responsible for a child's death in a car accident

In November 2021, Dutch midfielder Rai Vloet was traveling in a car that was involved in an accident outside Amsterdam that killed a four-year-old boy. The investigation revealed his car had accelerated to 203 km/h shortly before the collision. Vloet, whose blood-alcohol content at the time of the crash was double the legal limit, claimed he had not been behind the wheel. His Dutch club suspended the player nevertheless, and in 2022 he signed with Russian FC Ural Yekaterinburg.

Rai Vloet
Rai Vloet

In April 2023, Vloet was sentenced in the Netherlands to 2.5 years in prison in connection with the incident.

The car accelerated to 203 km/h before the collision, and Vloet’s blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit

At first, Vloet's friend tried to take the blame and gave false testimony, but eventually, both told the truth. The footballer later tried to justify his actions by saying he had activated cruise control. His defense stressed the fact that the deceased child was not wearing a seatbelt.

Before the fatal accident, Rai Vloet, a product of one of the country's most successful clubs, PSV, played in the top division for the mid-table team Heracles, and was a leader there. After the trial, active club supporters turned against him, insisting that he not be allowed to play while the appeals process was ongoing. Heracles agreed, suspending Vloet from training, and in January 2022 it was announced that the successful midfielder would no longer play for the team.

The Dutchman found a new job in Kazakhstan. Astana FC was well aware of the player’s legal situation, but the topic was quickly made taboo within the team, explains Igor Pavlyuk, then Astana's sports director:

“Vloet was signed at the very end of the transfer window,” Pavlyuk told The Insider. “The team learned about his arrival at the last moment. I understand that at the start of the legal proceedings, he planned ahead and ensured his freedom by coming to us. Vloet didn't go through training camps with the team but still stood out on the field, especially given his creativity. Frankly, we knew he wouldn't stay with us for long; his level is much higher than the Kazakhstan Championship. When Ural's offer came, Rai said he was much more interested in playing in Russia.”

Ural Yekaterinburg, which bought the bright Dutchman for 250,000 euros in September 2022, did not consider ethical questions at all — as admitted by the club's then-vice president Igor Efremov. On the YouTube show This is Football, Bro, the former Ural official recalled:

“When you're unaware of the situation, you wonder why a player like Vloet is playing in Kazakhstan. After delving into the matter and discussing it thoroughly, we realized that when Ural signed Vloet, there wasn't a court decision yet. Frankly, we didn't even consider the moral and ethical side at all at that time.” In response to a question about whether such a stance was acceptable, Efremov remarked, “Let me ask you this: are there many people who have always driven sober?” He concluded, “We're now spending more time discussing this situation than we did when making the decision.”

The footballer's lawyer, Eric Thomas, commented on the obvious: “It's not as interesting to play football in Kazakhstan and Yekaterinburg when you're used to Europe. But no European club wanted to see him anymore.”

Now Vloet's case is being handled by another lawyer, Alrik de Haas. In response to a request from The Insider, de Haas refused to comment on the appeals process. Vloet’s contract in Yekaterinburg runs until mid-season 2024/25. Due to a serious injury, he did not play from May 2023 to March 2024, and in the first nine spring matches, he spent only 89 minutes on the field in total.

“For Rai Vloet, life happily continues in the metropolis — Yekaterinburg. His name in Russian sounds like 'paradise.' In Russia, he leads a comfortable life,” wrote a columnist for the Dutch newspaper AD after Vloet's sentence was handed down in April of last year. “This is how a footballer born and raised in Schijndel, who accidentally caused a fatal accident in the Netherlands and fled because no club wanted to see him there, lives.”

Both the former footballer's lawyer, Eric Thomas, and the former Ural vice president, Igor Efremov, claimed that once the final verdict on the appeal is known, Vloet will not hide, and will return to the Netherlands to serve his sentence.

The Insider sent a request to FC Ural. No response was received by the time of publication.

“He views himself as untouchable”: Dutch international who trafficked cocaine

The most significant criminal incident in Russian football does not involve acquiring a player, but losing one. Quincy Promes, a key figure at Spartak Moscow, was recently detained in the UAE following an extradition request by his home country — the Netherlands, where he has been sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in two separate cases.

Quincy Promes
Quincy Promes

Last summer, Promes received a one-and-a-half year sentence for stabbing his cousin during a family quarrel, and in the winter, six more years were added for cocaine smuggling. These cases are unrelated; the drug trafficking investigation began in 2018, while the conflict with his cousin occurred in 2020.

Quincy Promes joined Spartak in summer 2014 and quickly ascended to legendary status. He led the team to the Russian championship in 2017, Spartak’s first in 16 years. After a lucrative sale that saw him play in Spain and the Netherlands, Promes returned to Spartak in early 2021. By May 2023, he had become the club's all-time leading scorer, surpassing the legendary Yegor Titov from the 2000s, as well as becoming the top scorer among all foreign players in the Russian league.

A third incident involving Promes, though relatively minor, played a crucial role in his eventual arrest. During the winter break of the 2023/24 season, the footballer avoided the EU, where he had already been sentenced in absentia for attacking his cousin, instead vacationing in Dubai. While there, Promes crashed a rented car into a bus and fled the scene. Upon returning to Moscow, he failed to inform Spartak about the accident before flying back to the UAE with the team for training.

Promes received his six-year drug trafficking sentence on February 14, while he was in the Emirates. The Dutch investigation unveiled that two shipments of cocaine, totaling 1,362 kg, arrived in the port of Antwerp from Brazil on Promes's behalf. The cargo was disguised as bags of sea salt. According to the probe, the Spartak player invested 200,000 euros with the aim of making 6 million. Promes had accomplices, including his uncle, but he spearheaded this mini-organization, hence the request for the maximum sentence.

Two shipments of cocaine, totaling 1,362 kg, arrived in the port of Antwerp from Brazil on Promes's behalf

The footballer's guilt was established through surveillance methods: law enforcement authorities wiretapped his conversations, revealing details of the attack on his cousin, examined his correspondence, and placed a bug in his car. Permission for these measures was granted in 2018. They successfully deciphered the code of a device Promes believed was secure, which he used to coordinate his illegal activities.

“Promes appears to view himself as untouchable, both in Russia and elsewhere. It raises questions about how a successful footballer became so deeply entangled in criminal activities,” the prosecutor was quoted by the NL Times as saying.

Two weeks after his sentence in absentia was handed down, Promes was barred from boarding Spartak's return flight from the UAE to Russia, as the border service had received information about the hit-and-run incident. Then Dutch authorities became involved, sending the extradition request that led to the footballer’s detention. By the end of March, De Telegraaf reported that Promes was awaiting trial and an extradition decision in a regular prison complex, sharing a cell with about 20 other inmates, mostly foreigners. On May 17, reports emerged that the Promes had been released on bail, but was prohibited from leaving the UAE.

There is a mutual extradition agreement in place between the UAE and the Netherlands. Spartak’s owner, Lukoil, has significant business interests in the Emirates, but while speculation is rampant about the potential for influence from its top executives in the Promes fiasco, there have been no indications of interference thus far.

Pending an appeal, Spartak has refrained from terminating the player's contract. However, the Russian business outlet RBC reports that the club has a legal recourse to terminate the agreement. When signing the contract in 2021, Spartak included a clause enabling termination without mutual claims if the player became unable to compete for the team.

If not for the car accident with the rented vehicle, Promes might have flown back to Russia with the team and continued playing in the Russian Premier League. His potential extradition from Russia to the Netherlands would have been unlikely. As Andrey Morozov, a lawyer at Feoktistov and Partners, said in an interview with The Insider:

“For example, the UK does not extradite anyone to Russia because there is a precedent-setting court ruling that the entire criminal prosecution system in Russia is torturous. Russia also does not extradite anyone to the UK. Germany has not extradited anyone since the start of the war with Ukraine, but Russia does extradite to Germany. The decision to extradite is essentially made by the General Prosecutor's Office, an extraordinary procedure, so extradition can be carried out (or not) for political reasons.”

In general, foreign athletes who are in Russia on a work visa are subject to all extradition conditions, but the question of how the country treats their criminal offenses remains open, Morozov says. By law, the decision to grant them a visa and residence permit is not related to criminal prosecution in their home (or any other) country.

“Russian society, as a civilized European country, should reasonably ask: why are we allowing criminals into Russia, and why are there no legal entry restrictions? The Ministry of Internal Affairs checks data on criminal prosecution, but while a Tajik may be barred, a Latin American footballer is allowed in. Decisions are made arbitrarily, and 'everyone understands everything.'”

Before landing in a Dubai prison, Quincy Promes likely even sought Russian citizenship. A year ago, reports indicated that Spartak was assisting him, but the Russian Ministry of Sports declined to offer its support due to the player’s ongoing trial. If Promes had managed to obtain Russian citizenship, he would have been safe from extradition, as Russia does not extradite its citizens.

If Promes had managed to obtain Russian citizenship, he would have been safe from extradition, as Russia does not extradite its citizens

However, the legal stance on crimes committed before acquiring citizenship is unclear, notes the lawyer Morozov. This issue is relevant due to the extension of Russian jurisdiction to Crimea and other occupied territories of Ukraine, where “new” citizens are being held accountable for past crimes. Therefore, a foreign athlete who becomes a Russian citizen could potentially be held criminally responsible for a crime committed abroad — but as a Russian citizen.

In Russia, Promes also faces criminal charges for systematic tax evasion. According to Mash, he owed 397,000 rubles (close to $4,400) in taxes before flying to the UAE for training.

“A player of this caliber was a godsend”: The American who attacked police officers

Russian hockey has seen similar cases, albeit on a smaller scale. In the summer of 2023, the Gazprom-funded St. Petersburg SKA, one of the Kontinental Hockey League’s (KHL) top clubs, signed American national Alex Galchenyuk, who is of Belarusian descent. In the past, Galchenyuk had declined offers of a Russian passport and an invitation to the Russian national team. But after breaking a newly signed contract with the Arizona Coyotes of the National Hockey League (NHL), offers from Russia were back on the table.

In his youth, Galchenyuk declined both the Russian passport and the invitation to the Russian national team

In mid-July 2023, Galchenyuk was arrested in Scottsdale, Arizona “on a number of charges including private property hit and run, disorderly conduct, failure to obey, resisting arrest, and threatening or intimidating.” He and his father had an accident in a BMW, hitting a curb and damaging a road sign along with a parked vehicle. When the police arrived, they found Galchenyuk intoxicated and lying a few meters away from the car. He resisted arrest, insulting and threatening the officers in the process.

In a police body camera video that surfaced later, it can be clearly heard how Galchenyuk addressed the officers: “You know I will stab you, right? I will stab you in the neck... You know I can get in touch with Abramovich... And all of you will be f***ing done for... Let me out of the car, or all your children, all your wives, all your daughters will die. One phone call from me and you are all dead.” Galchenyuk also made racist remarks towards one of the officers.

The player later publicly apologized, but there was no way back to the NHL for him. In such cases, clubs typically do not offer a contract to the offending player until they complete rehabilitation. However, Galchenyuk quickly received offers from Russia, ultimately opting for SKA.

By August, when the St. Petersburg club announced the contract, five of the six charges against Galchenyuk had been dropped (they originally included an accident on private property, fleeing the scene, disorderly conduct, disobedience, resisting arrest, and threats with intimidation), leaving him with just a 30-day jail sentence.

SKA's head coach Roman Rotenberg, who is also the club's vice president and deputy chairman of the board of directors (and the son of Vladimir Putin's oligarch friend Boris Rotenberg), was thrilled that Galchenyuk chose his club: “We are glad that a player of this level has joined us. As they say, he's a godsend.”

While introducing the newcomer at a press conference, Rotenberg emphasized, even before questions about the incident, that “Alex fits perfectly into our system, both in terms of his personal qualities and as a player.”

Shortly before Galchenyuk signed with SKA, the general director of Ufa's Salavat Yulaev confirmed his team's interest in the former NHL player: “It's difficult to judge a person or a situation without knowing it completely. Anything can happen, and the police interpretation can also vary.”

SKA did not respond to The Insider's questions about Galchenyuk's contract, nor about the player’s future. In mid-May, it was reported that Galchenyuk would continue his career with Khabarovsk's Amur.

Hunting down criminals

For several years now, the American Reid Boucher has been playing in the KHL. In January 2022, he was charged with raping a 12-year-old girl, an incident that occurred in 2011, when Boucher was 17. He pleaded guilty and received a year of probation. At that time, he was playing for Yaroslavl's Lokomotiv, and the club terminated his contract, citing the Russian Labor Code without offering further details. However, before the 2022/23 season, Boucher signed with Omsk's Avangard, where he had played the previous season.

Reid Boucher at Lokomotiv Yaroslavl
Reid Boucher at Lokomotiv Yaroslavl

Another area of controversy during the 2024 offseason involves the fate of five Canadians charged with sexual assault last January. The case was initiated in the spring of 2022 after a woman approached the Ontario court, recounting an incident that occurred three years earlier. According to the victim, at a charity golf tournament celebrating the Canadian junior team's victory at the World Championship, one of the team’s players invited her to a hotel room, where others arrived and forced her to have sex.

The names of the suspects remained unknown for a long time, but in January, five players from that junior national team were ordered to surrender to the police. They include goaltender Carter Hart (Philadelphia Flyers), forwards Dillon Dube (Calgary Flames) and Alex Formenton (Ambri-Piotta, Switzerland), forward Michael McLeod, and defenseman Cal Foote (both New Jersey Devils). NHL officials immediately stated that the players would not be allowed to play in the league until the investigation was completed. Their trial is expected to begin next year.

Unsurprisingly, there is speculation that the athletes might soon find a new home, at least temporarily. In March, Russia's Match TV reported that Kazan's hockey club Ak Bars was interested in goaltender Carter Hart. According to the TV channel's source, all five players are likely to continue their careers in Russia, as they won't be accepted into European leagues. Ak Bars is the most active contender. Kazan would take the rest, but the three foreign player limit is a hindrance.

To leave Canada, the players need special permission from the court. While they can make such requests, U.S. media consider it unlikely that Canada will allow individuals facing such serious charges to work in a country under severe international sanctions.

Reportedly, Moscow's Spartak hockey club is also interested in Slovakian Adam Ruzicka, who recently terminated his contract with Arizona. Ruzicka accidentally posted a video on Instagram featuring a line of white powder and a credit card. He quickly realized his mistake and deleted it, but NHL representatives did not overlook the incident.

What sports officials are saying

The case of Quincy Promes prompted discussions about the influx of players with reputational issues. Maxim Mitrofanov, General Director of the Russian Football Union, was asked about the Russian Premier League (RPL) being perceived as a league of criminals. Mitrofanov deflected responsibility, saying: “It's more of a question for the employer. Everyone decides for themselves whether they are ready to collaborate with someone who has committed or not committed any wrongdoing.”

Russian Premier League head Alexander Alaev, after stressing the principle that anyone accused of a crime is considered to be innocent until a court of law establishes otherwise, stated:

“If a person's guilt is proven, he should not play in the RPL. Football players are examples for children, and for my son, Promes is an idol. We, along with lawyers, are monitoring the situation with Promes and Vloet. We cannot prohibit them from playing. We will monitor how the situation unfolds. But people with legal issues should not be part of the league, that's my opinion.”

There are no legal instruments for prohibiting Russian Premier League or Kontinental Hockey League clubs from signing contracts with such players. And at least for now, the stated opinions of Alaev and other top figures in Russian football are being ignored by clubs.

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