15 arrested in Brazil over 17 tonnes of cocaine worth billions

In a significant victory for the war on drugs, law enforcement in Latin America and Europe have taken down one of Brazil’s most active drug trafficking organisations inundating Europe with multi-tonnes shipments of cocaine.  

On 30 March, simultaneous actions were carried out in Brazil with Europol’s support to dismantle the criminal group that reached from Paraguay to Europe. A total of 15 individuals were arrested, and over EUR 80 million worth of assets were seized.  Over the course of the investigation, over 17 tonnes of cocaine linked to this criminal organisation were seized, with an estimated street value of several billions of euros. 

Bringing down the whole network 

Known as Operation HINTERLAND, this two-year long investigation culminated in a series of actions carried out simultaneously on 30 March to bring down the entire criminal infrastructure linked to this group.
 
Enforcement measures were carried out against the criminal organisation responsible for the multiple cocaine shipments, its suppliers as well as its money-laundering structure. This action day was coordinated from two command centres in Porte Alegre and Rio Grande (Brazil).  

The operation in Brazil resulted in:  37 property searches 15 arrests The seizure of 173 vehicles and one aircraft The freezing of bank accounts of 147 individuals and 66 companies In addition, steps are being taken in Spain to locate and seize assets belonging to members of the criminal organisation. 

Intelligence-led operation

The investigation was initiated in Brazil after the Brazilian Federal Police received intelligence from the German Customs on a seizure in December 2020 of 316 kilograms of cocaine in Hamburg (Germany). The initial information suggested that a Brazilian company was being used for shipping cocaine from Brazil to Europe.  Based on the analysis carried out by Europol and the French authorities (OFAST), the Brazilian Federal Police was able to fully map out the criminal network which had until then mostly operated under the radar. 

The investigators were able to uncover how this Brazilian drug trafficking organisation was importing cocaine from Paraguay concealed in lorries, before exporting it to Europe.  A first arrest was carried out in October 2022 by the Brazilian Federal Police. A priority target was arrested in Paraguay for his alleged involvement in running the logistics between Paraguay and Brazil, and negotiating directly with the suppliers in Paraguay and Bolivia. 

The final rounds of arrests on 30 March was the culmination of many months of surveillance, intelligence gathering and coordination between the various law enforcement authorities involved in preparation for the action. 

Europol support 

Europol’s European Serious Organised Crime Centre has been supporting this case from the onset, bringing together the countries involved to uncover the actual magnitude of the criminal activity, to establish a joint strategy and to organise the exchange of evidence needed to prepare for the final phase of the investigation.  In addition, Europol has been providing continuous intelligence development and analysis to support the investigators in the field.