The Brazilian Federal Police (PF) and Paraguay’s National Anti-Drug Secretariat (SENAD) dismantled a network trafficking firearms from Europe to South America. “We’re talking about more than 40,000 weapons imported in the last three years,” Brazil’s Minister of Justice and Public Security Flávio Dino said at a press conference.
Through Operation Dakovo, agents from both countries carried out judicial warrants in close coordination. “So far, 22 arrest warrants [17 in Paraguay and five in Brazil] and 40 search and seizure warrants have been carried out,” the PF’s General Coordination of Social Communication told Diálogo on January 9.
“Paraguay has simply ceased to be a transit [and] drug trafficking country. This operation fully demonstrated that Paraguay is also a logistics center for international arms trafficking,” SENAD Minister Jalil Rachid told the press.
The weapons were imported from Europe to Paraguay, where their serial numbers were shaved and resold to groups of intermediaries operating on the Brazilian-Paraguayan border, to then be resold to Brazil’s main criminal gangs, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Bahia said in a statement.
By early January, the police had confiscated 2,248 firearms (long and short) and 70 gun accessories. They had also seized or blocked some $8 million in assets and cash, the PF told Diálogo. In addition, the Brazilian courts ordered the inclusion of 22 suspects on Interpol’s list of red notices.
Operation Dakovo was a joint effort with the Brazilian Federal Public Prosecutor’s Office and the Paraguayan Public Prosecutor’s Office. The action also included the International Task Force to Combat Trafficking in Arms and Ammunition, made up of the U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and the National Secretariat for Public Security, under the supervision of the PF’s Arms Trafficking Suppression Service, according to the Bahia Federal Prosecutor’s Office.
The investigations in Brazil began in 2020 in Vitória da Conquista, Bahia, following the arrest of two individuals in possession of 23 pistols from Croatia and two rifles with signs of tampering, daily Gazeta do Povo reported. In addition to Croatia, the police identified that the weapons were imported from countries such as the Czech Republic, Turkey, and Slovenia, by a company based in Asunción, Paraguay.
“In Asunción, these weapons went through a process of scraping off not only the serial number, but also the manufacturer’s logo. They [the criminals] would make a false stamp on these weapons to disguise their true origin,” Flavio Albergaria, PF superintendent in Bahia, said at a press conference.
The weapons were passed on to intermediary groups on Brazil’s border with Paraguay, who resold them to the two main criminal factions in Brazil, Albergaria said. “This company under investigation imported an average of 15,000 weapons a year into Paraguay over these three years. We believe that a large part of them were illegally diverted to supply criminal groups in Brazil.”
The police also traced how these weapons were paid for, through a money laundering system. “The money was passed on to front companies based in Miami and then another front company was used to send the money to the manufacturers, trying to conceal the origin of the money,” said Albergaria.
In Brazil, the PF identified the laundering scheme to pay the supplier. “So there are two financial axes of this criminal group: one was the Brazilian criminal factions paying for the acquisition of the weapons; and the second, based in Miami, was the importer paying the manufacturers,” Albergaria said.
Fighting organized crime
Minister Dino highlighted the “strategic importance” of Operation Dakovo in the fight against organized crime. According to him, the two priorities of the Ministry of Justice are action against the logistics of organized crime (hence the focus on ports, airports, and borders) and decapitalization, i.e. “getting money out” of criminal organizations.
“This action with Paraguay will mean that the two largest Brazilian factions, which were the main recipients of these illegal arms, will have to close this logistics route to carry out their operations,” Dino said.
SENAD Minister Rachid stressed the collaboration and cooperation between both countries. “In both Paraguay and Brazil, this is a gigantic investigation, with many connections around the world,” he said. “We will continue to work as the brotherly countries that we are.”