In mid-September, Brazil’s Federal Police (PF) launched Operation Rookies to dismantle a criminal organization that engaged in transnational narcotrafficking and money laundering. “The Justice ordered the blocking of 130 bank accounts of 30 people under investigation,” the PF reported.
According to the investigation, members of the criminal organization moved close to $42 million between 2017 and 2021 from accomplices’ bank accounts. “The criminal organization was dismantled with the arrest of 10 people,” the PF’s Social Communication Office in Passo Fundo, Rio Grande do Sul, told Diálogo.
PF officers carried out dozens of search and seizure warrants and served preventive detention warrants and temporary detention warrants in 12 cities in the states of Rio Grande do Sul, Santa Catarina, Paraná, and São Paulo.
Among the targets of Operation Rookies was a man already imprisoned for theft in the Regional Prison of Caxias do Sul, Rio Grande do Sul. “With the suspect, four cell phone and notes were seized,” the Brazilian digital newspaper GZHreported.
Enticing young people
The investigation began when officers suspected that a man, currently serving time for narcotrafficking, was arranging drug shipments to Europe from his prison cell. “Those under investigation had the support of other detainees and people at liberty, who would act by recruiting young people without criminal records to transport drugs to Europe in exchange for payment,” the PF said.
In November 2019, for instance, a man residing in Passo Fundo was arrested at Zurich Airport in Switzerland, when disembarking from a flight from Brazil, carrying 4 kilograms of cocaine hidden in his luggage.
That same month, a woman from Passo Fundo and a man from Santa Catarina who accompanied her were arrested in Copenhagen, Denmark, upon arriving from Brazil. They too carried drugs hidden in their suitcases.
“The investigation is also looking into other cases of drug shipments that have resulted in arrests in Europe,” Brazilian newspaper Correio do Povo reported.
The operation highlights the continuing use of human carriers to move drugs by plane, a strategy that is decades old and lands hundreds of people in jail. According to InSight Crime, an organization that studies organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, the use of couriers or drug mules is widespread in Latin America with men and women recruited in vast numbers. Some ingests narcotics before boarding a flight, strap packages of drugs on their body, or stash drugs inside suitcases, among others.
Women make up almost half of the drug mules detained each year at Brazil’s international airports, according to police data for the 2017-2020 period, the UNODC report indicates.
Regional distribution of drugs
According to the PF, the criminal group was also active in the distribution of drugs in Passo Fundo and the region. It received marijuana and cocaine from Curitiba, Paraná, as well as synthetic drugs from the coast of Santa Catarina. The group then passed them on to local dealers, responsible for selling the narcotics to consumers.
The search warrants were served in Marau and Caxias do Sul (Rio Grande do Sul), Itapema and Itajaí (Santa Catarina), Curitiba and Cascavel (Paraná), Valinhos and Vinhedo (São Paulo), among other cities. According to the PF, those under investigation will be charged with international drug trafficking, criminal organization, and money laundering.