Massive police operation targets Brazil’s biggest crime gang

. Jul 28, 2020
pcc Brazil wants to open up universities to private money (1) Photo: SSP/SP

On Tuesday morning, law enforcement from 11 states in Brazil launched a massive sting operation comprising 212 arrest and search and seizure warrants targeting members of the notorious First Command of the Capital (PCC) organized crime gang — the largest of its kind in the country. Over 1,000 police officers knocked on doors across 71 cities in the states of Alagoas, Pernambuco, Ceará, Bahia, Paraíba, Sergipe, Piauí, Paraná, Mato Grosso do Sul, São Paulo, and Minas Gerais.

The operation sought to dismantle a new wing of the criminal faction, based in Mato Grosso do Sul and in charge of the PCC’s so-called ‘crime tribunal,’ by which the gang orders the executions of rivals around the country, often within prisons.

</p> <p>Tuesday&#8217;s operation was the second phase of Operation Flashback, which began in November 2019 and resulted in the imprisonment of 81 people across eight states. This subsequent stage is led by the Justice Ministry, with the participation of the Federal Police and state law enforcement.</p> <p>The investigations that culminated in Tuesday&#8217;s arrests highlighted the participation of an increased number of women members of the PCC, with a notable increase in the number of women holding commanding roles within the criminal faction&#8217;s organizational structure.</p> <iframe src="" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>One PCC cell in the state of Alagoas, known as the Dames of Crime, comprised 18 women and one man. A total of 40 women — almost one-fifth — were targeted by Tuesday&#8217;s warrants, in what is usually a heavily male-dominated environment. Indeed, the PCC&#8217;s &#8220;feminine core&#8221; was pointed out as being <a href="">just as vicious</a> as the gang&#8217;s male members.</p> <h2>Parallel sting targets drug trafficking</h2> <p>The majority of arrests and search warrants of Operation Flashback II came in Brazil&#8217;s Northeast region. In the state of Alagoas, the Federal Police used the sting to synchronize the investigations with other groups involved, as some of the targets were simultaneously in law enforcement crosshairs for their involvement in a vast drug trafficking scheme.</p> <p>Therefore, Feds also launched Operation Njörd, carrying out 39 arrests and 25 search and seizure warrants in the state capital Maceió, in São Paulo, other cities in Paraná and Mato Grosso do Sul.&nbsp;</p> <p>During the three months of investigations that comprised Operation Njörd, evidence was produced that, according to law enforcement, proved the existence of the crimes of drug trafficking and conspiracy to sell drugs committed by the suspects. In this period, Feds caught five suspects in the act, arresting them for drug trafficking, apprehending almost half a ton of narcotics.</p> <p>The Federal Police noted that part of the payment for the drugs was carried out by bank accounts opened in the names of residents of São Paulo and Paraná. These accounts were duly frozen upon court order and the holders were taken in for questioning by the police.</p> <p>Feds also stated that they identified members of the criminal organization who were responsible for acquiring and transporting the drugs to Alagoas, as well as those who received and distributed the narcotics on the street.</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="900" height="506" src="" alt="pcc drug organization brazil" class="wp-image-45308" srcset=" 900w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px" /><figcaption>Feds carry out warrants against PCC members in Alagoas. Image: SSP/AL</figcaption></figure> <h2>PCC plans to dominate South America</h2> <p>With an estimated 30,000 members, the PCC orchestrates prison riots, armed robberies, kidnappings, assassinations, and drug trafficking schemes, among other criminal endeavors. Originally founded inside a prison in the state of São Paulo, the gang is now present in at least 22 of Brazil&#8217;s 27 states —&nbsp;and has <a href="">members in other countries</a>, such as Bolivia, Paraguay, and Colombia.</p> <p>In Paraguay, the PCC has staged some of the highest-profile crimes in the country&#8217;s recent history, such as Hollywood-esque robberies of banks and companies transporting valuables. It has also fueled carnage with other groups, vying for control over Brazil&#8217;s so-called “hillbilly route” of cocaine trafficking, where drugs from Bolivia and Peru cross into the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso do Sul and the São Paulo countryside, before being transported to the Port of Santos for distribution to Europe.</p> <iframe src="" width="100%" height="232" frameborder="0" allowtransparency="true" allow="encrypted-media"></iframe> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p>In January 2020, a group of 75 inmates linked to the PCC escaped prison in Pedro Juan Caballero, a Paraguayan city located directly on the Brazilian border, in a <a href="">jailbreak worthy of a big-budget action movie</a>. Paraguayan authorities found a tunnel inside one of the prison blocks — as well as numerous sandbags. But the country’s Justice Minister Cecilia Perez says the tunnel might have been a diversion, believing instead that the inmates simply walked out of the prison&#8217;s front door after paying guards USD 80,000 in bribes.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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