Tino Asprilla, who signed for Newcastle United in 1996, was recently dragged into cocaine conspiracy allegations when his name was mentioned in a court case. The Colombian's friend Osmiro Colonia Mendez, known as 'Pirri", was standing trial, accused of trying to set up links between dealers on Tyneside and in South America.
Newcastle Crown Court heard that Asprilla was 'involved in the supply of drugs", although no prosecution evidence was ever offered to back this up. The Chronicle set out to find Asprilla, but the fact he didn't speak English and now lived in Colombia created more than a few complications. 'We went through all the usual routes such as going through an agent, but it wasn't bearing much fruit,'explained the Chronicle's Adam Jupp.
'Then my news editor got a call from a Colombian radio station based in Madrid, asking for an explanation of the trial. The call was passed to me as I knew all the details. I said to them, why don't you try to track him down in Colombia, and they managed to find his sister and get numbers for him.
'Because his English is not good, I suggested that they ask him to come on live radio at the same time so I could ask him questions through them and they could be translated back to me. It was the perfect solution because they didn't know what the case was about but I couldn't speak their language."
While Jupp was on air his phone rang. It was another radio station in Bogota, Colombia, asking if he could do exactly the same thing. When he began the interview with the second radio station they informed him they had Asprilla live on the line.
'It was totally bizarre,'said Jupp. 'He must have got the call from them as soon as he put the phone down. They only saw a condensed version of the story in The Sun, and thought that he was in the dock as well, so I had to explain that he had only been mentioned in court, there was no evidence against him and that's why we could use it."
The transcript of the two interviews, in which Asprilla denied any involvement in drugs and pledged to return to England to clear his name in court, made the Chronicle's front page exclusive, while an abridged version of the radio interviews were made into a podcast on the paper's website.
Pirri was cleared, though 26 others were convicted of drug charges following an undercover police operation. Jupp arranged for Pirri to appear on radio, when he said he planned to go back home and meet up with Asprilla again, which made for a follow-up story for the Chronicle.