BUENOS AIRES (Reuter) Diego Maradona who rose from 3 shantytowns to become one of the world’s best-known and highest-paid soccer stars was arrested yesterday on the suspicion of possessing drugs the police said.

National television showed Maradona the hero of Argentina’s 1986 World Cup winning team leaning on two other men and his head lolling as the police hustled him out of an apartment block in a Buenos Aires suburb and into a car.

He smiled at crowds of onlookers. But later on television the Argentine star appeared to be sobbing as he arrived at the drug squad’s headquarters

The Italian soccer league had banned Maradona earlier this month from playing anywhere in the world for 15 months after traces of cocaine were found in a urine sample.

The arrest shocked the country. Television stations interrupted programmes to break the news to viewers.

Fans packed the street outside the drug squad headquarters chanting Maranon’s name. “Don’t abandon him don’t abandon him we all love him” cried one weeping woman fan.

The Judge in charge of the case denied a report by the official news agency Telam which quoted unidentified sources as saying around half a kilogram of cocaine had been found in the apartent.

Legal sources said Maradona faced a prison sentence of one to six years if found guilty of possession and of up to 16 years if convicted of providing drugs for others.

The stocky midfielder was likely be held until Monday until bail could be considered the sources said.

Two other men were arrested with Maradona. Their names have not been made public but Maradona agent Juan Marco Franchi said he understood they were childhood friends of Maradona.

Residents of the apartment block said Maradona 30 and the two other men had been at the first floor flat since Thursday afternoon. When drug squad cars pulled up outside they saw Maradona throw a packet later recovered by the police from the window.

Despite his problems in Italy Maradona is still worshipped in Argentina where fans nurture the hope he will reconsider his decision to abandon international soccer and return to the national side he led to the 1986 tithe and to second place in last year’s World Cup finals.

Article extracted from this publication >> May 10, 1991