The First Capital Command (PCC), one of Brazil and South America’s largest criminal group, teamed up with other major drug gangs to smuggle cocaine to countries in Europe and Africa, strengthening ties to global organized crime, British daily The Economist reported.
“Since 2016 there has been a clear expansion plan of the PCC, first nationally and regionally and then extra-regionally to Europe, while in Africa it operates cooperatively with other groups to reach the cocaine consumption market,” Carolina Sampó, coordinator of the Center for Studies on Transnational Organized Crime in Argentina, told Diálogo on January 2.
Born in 1993, the organization has grown to become Brazil’s most feared criminal group, conquering drug markets, smuggling routes, slums, and prisons throughout the South America country, including remote corners of the Amazon.
The PCC has an estimated 40,000 life members and another 60,000 contracted members in its ranks. A report by the Portuguese security services warned that the group has 1,000 associates in Lisbon alone.
Intelligence reports indicate the presence of the PCC in prisons of Portugal, Spain, and France. “They are beginning to replicate the criminal organization reproduction model,” Sampó said. “In prisons they capture detainees, incorporate them into their ranks, baptize them as brothers, create bonds that are unbreakable, rings of trust, and when they leave prison they work for the PCC.”
According to The Economist, in 2021 the European Union seized a record 303 tons of cocaine. As the drug is shipped further afield, the profit margins are higher. Previously, the PCC would buy cocaine wholesale in Bolivia at $1,500 a kilogram, load it onto a ship in a Brazilian port, and sell it for $8,000. But by setting up shop in Europe, PCC members can sell that kilogram for more than $30,000, The Economist reported.
The gang directs more than 50 percent of Brazil’s drug exports to Europe, said Lincoln Gakiya, São Paulo’s organized crime prosecutor. It works mostly with the Italian ‘Ndrangheta (Calabrian mafia), the biggest mafia in Europe, The Economist reported.
“If someone consumes cocaine in France, England, or Spain, there is a good chance that it arrived there through the hands of the PCC,” Gakiya said.
For Sampó, “the trend in the sale and consumption of cocaine has shifted from the Americas to Europe.”
Another area of expansion is West Africa, one of the main cocaine transit zones. A report by Swiss-based nongovernmental organization Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime stated that the PCC operates as a key player in the drug trade.
“The PCC uses Mozambique and Angola as a transit area, with support and cooperation of local criminal organizations that provide logistics, allowing the movement of cocaine on the African continent with the arrival of ships in the Gulf of Benin and Guinea-Bissau, to then redistribute the shipment through land, air, and sea, to bring it closer to Europe,” Sampó said.
The connection with Nigerian criminal organizations also helps the organization get into southern Africa. For example, South Africa is a key point for shipping cocaine to the emerging markets of India and China.
Nigerian trafficking groups play an important role in trafficking cocaine between Latin America and consumer markets, employing human couriers on commercial flights, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), InSight Crime, an organization dedicated to the study of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, indicated in a late September 2023 report.
In this regard, Nigerian gangs struck a deal with the PCC because they have been central to the West African route since at least 2005, meaning they possess the knowledge and connections necessary to be efficient traffickers and valuable partners for the PCC, InSight Crime said.
According to Christian Azevedo of the Brazilian Federal Police, in Nigeria members of the PCC operate on the streets of Lagos and Abuja, The Ecominist reported. “They even control neighborhoods there in the same way they do in São Paulo,” he said, citing information from his Nigerian counterparts.
British daily The Guardian reported that the PCC has become an even more formidable force after forging lucrative alliances with partners ranging from Bolivian cocaine producers to Italian mafiosi.
The group has a growing portfolio of interests, including illegal gold mines in the Amazon. It controls one of South America’s most important trafficking routes for drug shipments to Europe.
“The PCC, unlike other criminal organizations in Latin America, is the only one that grows and consolidates, passing its hegemony from São Paulo, then to almost all Brazilian states, then to Paraguay and expanding into Bolivia, Chile, and Peru,” said Sampó.
For his part, Gakiya emphasized that the PCC has begun a transition stage toward a global mafia, penetrating politics and the legal economy. The Brazilian justice system has discovered businesses in waste collection, public transportation, and hotel construction projects involved with the PCC.
The great territorial and social influence of the Brazilian organization has been increasing in recent times. “They exercise a type of control that no other group has ever exercised, except for the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia at its peak,” said Steven Dudley, co-director of InSight Crime.