Prosecutors in Argentina have opened an investigation into the death of late footballing legend Diego Maradona, seeking to probe whether negligence played a role in his passing and to clarify the circumstances of his final hours alive.
A family member, who asked to remain anonymous, told the AFP news agency Friday that relatives felt there were “irregularities” in the iconic footballer’s passing.
On Thursday, Maradona’s lawyer and friend, Matías Morla, complained "that the ambulance took more than half an hour to get to the house where El Diez was," using the nickname for the late footballer.
However, at print time, neither he nor any family member has presented themselves as a plaintiff in the case, a judicial source confirmed.
"The case was initiated because it is a person who died at home and no-one signed the death certificate. It does not mean that there are suspicions of irregularities, that is what is being investigated," said the source who requested anonymity.
The case, opened by the San Isidro Attorney General's Office, is entitled "Maradona, Diego: Investigation of the cause of death."
The preliminary report from the late star’s autopsy, carried out on Wednesday night at the Morgue of the Greater Buenos Aires district of San Fernando, determined that the star died due to "acute cardiac insufficiency in a patient with a dilated myocardium and chronic congestive cardiac insufficiency generating an acute pulmonary oedema."
On Wednesday night, the body of Maradona was transferred to a funeral parlour in the City neighbourhood of La Paternal to prepare it for Thursday’s wake at the Casa Rosada.
Nurse last to see him alive?
A nurse who was Maradona was likely the last person to see the star alive, at dawn on Wednesday, prosecutors said Friday.
"From their words, it could be established that they were the last individual to see him alive at approximately 6.30am in the morning," as the night shift was ending, a statement from the prosecutor's office said.
Maradona was receiving round the clock medical care as he was recovering from an operation to remove a clot on his brain in early November.
Maradona’s nephew, Johnny Herrera, was previously believed to have been the last person to see Maradona, at around 11.30pm on Tuesday.
Prosecutors said the nurse told them that she had heard the retired footballer “moving around inside the room” at 7.30am.
They added that at 12.17pm “Maradona’s personal secretary requested medical assistance, and an ambulance from the company +VIDA was present at 12.28pm, according to film records from the San Andrés neighbourhood obtained by the Prosecutor’s Office.” Several ambulances from other medical service providers arrived later. Investigators have also established that Maradona’s personal doctor Leopoldo Luque had already made a 911 call at 12.16pm, requesting an ambulance.
Prosecutors say they are investigating Maradona's medical history, as well as call records to and from the house. They have also requested further autopsy reports.
Relatives, nevertheless, fear he may not have been cared for properly.
"You have to see if they complied with what was to be done or relaxed. The nurse declared one thing when the prosecutor appeared on the day of Diego's death, then expanded her statement and, in the end, she went on to say that on television that what she said they forced her to say it, so there is some contradiction in her statement," a family member who requested anonymity warned AFP.
Died ‘in his sleep’
Prosecutors have an initial working theory, based on testimony from those who visited the house, that Maradona died in his sleep, during the night of November 24 to 25.
After 11.30am on Wednesday morning Maradona’s personal psychologist and psychiatrist arrived and entered his bedroom, initial investigations have revealed. They spoke to him but the star, who seemed to be sleeping, did not respond.
Given this scenario Maradona’s nephew and personal assistant were summoned and they tried to wake him. Not observing any signs of life, they requested the presence of the nurse and the psychiatrist, who applied artificial respiration but in vain. They then called up various ambulance services but before their arrival, a neighbouring surgeon showed up and attempted artificial respiration. When the ambulance arrived, the doctors applied ampoules of adrenaline and atropine but failed to revive him, at which point the death of the football star was finally confirmed at 1.20pm.
The case then passed from the medical to the judicial sphere in the form of the San Isidro courthouse, whose Prosecutor-General John Broyad set up an investigative work team consisting of the prosecutors Laura Capra, Patricio Ferrari and Cosme Iribarren who proceeded to San Andrés for an on-the-spot investigation into the causes of death, ordering the transfer of the corpse to the San Fernando morgue. Two of the prosecutors attended the autopsy while the third started questioning witnesses in order to reconstruct Maradona’s final hours.
Morla, speaking on Wednesday, also expressed concern over Maradona’s care, complaining that he found it "inexplicable" that somebody in the football star’s condition had been left alone for so long "without attention or control."
The lawyer also pointed out that the ambulance had taken over half an hour to reach San Andrés. Morla pulled no punches, calling this “criminal idiocy” and stating that he would pursue the matter “to the last consequences.”
Maradona’s last days can be said to have begun three weeks ago when he was operated for a subdural haematoma in his head at Olivos Clinic on November 3 (just four days after turning 60), leading a secluded existence in a Tigre house in the following week with continuous medical assistance. He was reported to be depressed.
He was moved from Tigre to the gated community of San Andrés on November 11 following a dispute with the Olivos clinic doctors and his family, which included the signature of a document disowning any responsibility for his health. Diego was reported to be suffering withdrawal symptoms from his addictions to alcohol and drugs.
Both the Olivos Clinic and his personal doctors, in consensus with his family, had agreed that further hospitalisation would be advisable but the football star resisted this course. Tigre, with a medical unit available around the clock, then emerged as a compromise solution but this lasted little more than a week.
Maradona received some visits during the first few days at San Andrés but these gradually tailed away. His younger daughter Giannina was the most frequent visitor but her elder sister Dalma also stopped by while Jana, an illegitimate daughter, offered to sleep over to help out but the offer was rejected by Diego.
In the last week or so, Maradona did not want to see anybody, according to reports, and locked himself up in his bedroom without his mobile telephone so as not to be disturbed. Faced with depression the doctors expressed anxious hopes that he could return to his job as Gimnasia y Esgrima La Plata coach, in order to recover some work routine.
On the last day he was seen alive he took his daily medicine in the morning and apparently spent the day in bed.
Tragically, he would not get up again.