Drug money financed Brazilian politicians, Feds believe

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Brazil's Pablo Escobar drug politics

Man connected to Brazil’s Pablo Escobar was arrested

Brazil’s Federal Police might have discovered a connection between Brazil’s most prominent cocaine dealer and high profile politicians. This connection would be Carlos Alexandre de Souza, a.k.a. Ceará, a money launderer who worked for the Brazilian equivalent of Pablo Escobar – and alleged paid bribes to politicians.

“We know that drug money went to politicians. What we’re investigating is if [the politicians] were aware of it,” said detective Elvis Secco. Ceará was arrested on Tuesday during an anti-drug operation, along with seven other people.

The money launderer had already been targeted by Operation Car Wash in 2014. He signed a plea deal and told investigators that he gave illegal campaign funds to at least three senators: Fernando Collor (a former president), Aécio Neves (who almost won the presidency in 2014), and Renan Calheiros (the former Senate president).

During 19 depositions collected by the Federal Justice system, Ceará cited the names of politicians from the Workers’ Party, the centrists PP and MDB, center-right PSDB, and right-wing PTB. In fairness, not all of his claims were consistent – and the Supreme Court dismissed investigations against several of them.

How the money was laundered

Brazilian money launderers, also called doleiros, have a standard modus operandi: they are paid in cash (in Brazilian Reals) and set up hidden offshore accounts. This can also happen the other way around, with the cash payments following the establishment of offshore accounts. What’s notable about Ceará, however, is that the cash he used in bribery operations for politicians came from the drug lord Luiz Carlos da Rocha, a.k.a. “White Head”.

“Brazil’s Pablo Escobar”

Over the past two decades, White Head dealt over USD 1.2 billion worth of cocaine. Per month, he shipped an average of five tons of the drug to Europe, Africa, and the U.S. His profits are estimated at USD 100 million, but could be much higher. He was the primary drug supplier to Brazil’s main Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo-based cartels.

Brazil's Pablo Escobar drug politics white head

Luiz Carlos da Rocha: Brazil’s Pablo Escobar

The “Drug Baron,” another of his nicknames, ran a sophisticated drug smuggling operation. Importing cocaine directly from Peruvian, Bolivian, and Colombian producers, White Head brought the drug into Brazil via small planes destined for several of his own farms in the state of Mato Grosso. From there, the drug was distributed either to São Paulo – where it was sold to criminal organizations – or to North America.

At the time of his arrest, White Head was easily the biggest South American drug dealer – which led the Feds to dub him “Brazil’s Pablo Escobar.” Despite his prominence in the drug business, White Head avoided prison for 32 years. This was partially due to several plastic surgeries, but also because of his low-profile demeanor.

White Head was arrested in July last year. Since then, the Feds have analyzed his books, which led to Ceará, one of his go-to money launderers.

Where will Ceará now lead investigators?

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About the author

Gustavo Ribeiro

An award-winning journalist with experience covering Brazilian politics and international affairs. His work has been featured across Brazilian and French media outlets.