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Brazilian Federal Police Operation Shows Link Between Narcotrafficking and Mines in the Amazon

Brazilian Federal Police Operation Shows Link Between Narcotrafficking and Mines in the Amazon

By Nelza Oliveira/Diálogo
December 20, 2021

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On November 4, 2021, the Brazilian Federal Police (PF, in Portuguese) launched Operation Narcos Gold to decapitalize and dismantle a criminal group that operated in the state of Pará for at least three years, promoting money laundering from narcotrafficking and using gold mining as a front. The operation involved more than 130 federal police officers with logistics support from the Brazilian Army.

Investigations indicated that the leader of the scheme was Heverton Soares, also known as Compadre Grota or Garimpeiro (Prospector). Soares is facing charges for drug trafficking, criminal organization, money laundering, and murder, in at least three other Brazilian states: Maranhão, Rondônia, and São Paulo. In Pará, he was a mega entrepreneur, owner of mines, farms, airstrips, mineral extraction machinery, and car parts companies. According to the PF, the organization was used to move nearly $5.3 million from its most lucrative activity: narcotrafficking.

Operation Narcos Gold revealed that individuals and legal entities under investigation moved more than $176 million between 2017 and early 2021. (Photo: Brazilian Federal Police)

According to the PF, drugs were transported by airplanes departing from different states to western Pará, where it was distributed to other places. Authorities confirmed that the group used gold mines as a base for landings and takeoffs for drug transport and as a front for money laundering. One theory is that the targets of the investigation used invoices for fictitious gold transactions to justify the millionaire’s assets. The criminals’ modus operandi was to associate with southeastern criminal factions for narcotrafficking.

Investigations on Soares began in Pará, in 2020, when a plane allegedly belonging to him was intercepted by the Brazilian Air Force (FAB, in Portuguese). The plane had taken off from the Tabocal mine, also belonging to Soares. After being warned by the FAB that the aircraft would be shot down, the pilot ignored their instructions and made a forced landing in an abandoned area. Before fleeing, he was able to set the plane on fire, but the fire did not destroy all the cargo he was carrying. The PF identified traces of “a substance compatible with cocaine hydrochloride.”

PF investigations that led to Operation Narcos Gold revealed that individuals and legal entities under investigation, registered in several states of the federation, moved more than $176 million between 2017 and early 2021.

The operation carried out 12 arrest warrants and 30 search and seizure warrants in the states of Pará, Goiás, Tocantins, and São Paulo; grounded 12 aircraft; froze bank account assets; and blocked other movable assets and real estate. The court authorized the provisional use of two of the seven aircraft seized during the operation by the Public Security secretariats of Pará and Amapá. Soares is still at large. He is believed to be hiding somewhere in a mine in the jungle.

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