Law enforcement in Latin America and Europe have taken down one of Brazil’s most active drug trafficking organizations inundating Europe with multi-tons 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 tons of cocaine linked to this criminal organization were seized, with an estimated street value of several billions of Euros.
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 organization responsible for the multiple cocaine shipments, its suppliers as well as its money-laundering structure. This action day was coordinated from two command centers in Porte Alegre and Rio Grande (Brazil). The port involved in the smuggling of cocaine to Europe was Rio Grande, the largest in southern Brazil, in the state of Rio Grande do Sul and maritime logistic companies in Rio Grande and Itajai.
The operation in Brazil, resulted in 37 property searches, 15 arrests, the seizure of 173 vehicles and one aircraft and the freezing of bank accounts of 147 individuals and 66 companies involved in real estates transactions. In addition, steps are being taken in Spain to locate and seize assets belonging to members of the criminal organization.
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 organization 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’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 organize 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. The following authorities took part in this investigation: Brazil: Federal Police (Polícia Federal); France: National Police (Police Nationale – OFAST); Germany: Customs (Zoll) and Spain: Civil Guard (Guardia Civil)