An operation to catch the leader of a Brazilian network that smuggled cocaine into more than 30 countries serves as an example of the powerful independent traffickers operating in Brazil, though the drug boss remains at large.
After a two-and-a-half year investigation into the group, Brazilian authorities carried out Operation Deep Water (Operação Aguas Profundas) in seven Brazilian states on May 23. Five suspects were arrested, but leader Mario Sergio Machado Nunes managed to escape, and Brazilian authorities and Interpol continue to search for him, reported InfoSur Hoy.
According to Brazilian police, Machado’s group purchased cocaine in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Paraguay and trafficked the drug to destinations including the United States, Spain, the United Arab Emirates and Angola. Bruno Pereira Pinto Gama, the head of Brazil’s drug agency (DRE), estimated that the organization’s weekly sales were around $2.2 million, reported InfoSur Hoy.
The group was in the process of building a submarine with the help of Colombian engineers at the time of the police operation, and was thought to be planning to use it to transport drugs to Africa en route to Europe, reported G1 Globo.
Machado also reportedly had plans to buy a Boeing 737 and start an airline company to transport drugs clandestinely.
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Machado’s organization has been in the drug trafficking business for over 30 years, according to police sources quoted by G1 Globo. It allegedly did business with notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, who was killed in 1993, and more recently lent money to the leader of Colombian drug gang the Urabeños.
The scope and sophistication of Machado’s organization is evident from the number of countries he trafficked drugs to and the longevity of his operation. Although Machado was reportedly arrested on four occasions, the fact that his group has been able to continue trafficking drugs on such a large scale for more than three decades suggests some level of official complicity.
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Machado’s organization is an example of the independent Brazilian drug networks that have connections for acquiring product in neighboring countries like Peru and Bolivia. A recent investigation conducted by Rio de Janeiro-based newspaper Extra identified several other such players in the country.
The existence of these powerful independent operators suggests Brazil’s major organized crime groups — such as the First Capital Command (PCC) — do not have the same kind of hegemony over drug routes as their counterparts in Mexico and Colombia, who typically seek to control all facets of the drug trade using violence.