The recent arrests of two members of the ‘Ndrangheta in São Paulo have further highlighted the increasingly close partnership between the Italian mafia and Brazil’s PCC -- two of the world's most powerful criminal groups.
On July 8, Brazilian federal police arrested Nicola and Patrick Assisi in São Paulo on suspicion of drug trafficking. Nicola Assisi is allegedly the ‘Ndrangheta’s main contact in South America and worked with Brazil’s First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital - PCC) to smuggle cocaine into Europe, according to an investigation published in Portuguese newspaper Expresso.
These arrests are only the most recent indications that the two groups closely coordinate drug trafficking activities. A police investigation found that the head of the ‘Ndrangheta's Pelle clan, Domenico Pelle, traveled to São Paulo at least twice between 2016 and 2017. During this time, he is believed to have met with Gilberto Aparecido dos Santos, better known as "Fuminho." Dos Santos -- the right-hand man of incarcerated PCC leader Marcos Willians Herbas Camacho, alias "Marcola," -- is one of the most wanted criminals in Brazil and is believed to coordinate international shipments of cocaine from Bolivia for the PCC.
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Meanwhile, drug seizures in Brazil during the first six months of 2019 have increased by more than 90 percent. Much of this cocaine was destined for Europe, where the ‘Ndrangheta controls trafficking routes across much of the continent.
InSight Crime Analysis
A marriage of convenience between the 'Ndrangheta and the PCC has emerged to smuggle drugs from Brazil to Europe. Each group controls one side of the cocaine flow, posing no risk to the other.
In the last few years, the PCC has worked to dominate smuggling networks and transportation hubs in Brazil and neighboring countries. This expansive logistical network has made them the premier criminal partner for foreign organizations looking to move cocaine out of Brazil. Meanwhile, the ‘Ndrangheta has a grip on the movement of cocaine to consumers across the European continent.
The PCC's expansion includes making inroads into Bolivia, where the group can buy cocaine directly from producers in that country, according to Americas Quarterly. Police sources in Brazil, speaking on condition of anonymity, told InSight Crime that Fuminho is playing a crucial role into the PCC's presence in Bolivia.
The cocaine is then moved to Paraguay, a major smuggling destination that the PCC has fought hard to control. From Paraguay, the group routes the cocaine to Brazilian border cities, such as Ponta Porã and Foz do Iguaçu, according to an investigation by UOL. Sources consulted by InSight Crime revealed, however, that Foz do Iguaçu has largely been supplanted by other crossings, especially small tows in between Ponta Porã in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and Guaíra in the state of Paraná where there is less security.
The drug is then moved into the interior of the country and eventually to the ports of Santos (22.7 tons of cocaine seized in 2018), Paranaguá (4.3 tons) and Itajaí (0.46 tons) in southeastern Brazil. The Port of Santos is one of the largest ports in all of Latin America and a key conduit for drugs heading to Europe. In 2019, nearly half of all drug seizures took place in this port, where the PCC controls the flow of drugs.
No other criminal group in Brazil has been able to achieve such a broad logistical network across the region, allowing the group to control the movement and sale of cocaine to foreign organizations like the ‘Ndrangheta.
The Italian mafia has operated in Brazil since at least the 1980s, according to European police. In the 1980s, the ‘Ndrangheta's Morabito clan, led by Giuseppe Morabito, coordinated drug shipments from São Paulo to the Italian city of Milan.
Now the group has affiliates all over Europe, which are able to offload drugs at crucial ports, such as Antwerp, Hamburg and Rotterdam. Once the drugs arrive, the 'Ndrangheta works with Italian traffickers who transport the drugs for wider distribution across Europe.
While both groups have other sources of revenue, this transnational pipeline has played an important role in each group's success and expansion. Over the last few years, the PCC has grown dramatically. Documents seized by authorizes in 2018 showed that the groups annual income could be as much as $200 million. The documents also revealed that the group’s membership across Brazil and other countries has exploded, growing from just over 3,000 in 2014 to more than 20,000 in 2018.
Having a steady influx of cocaine from Brazil has also been crucial for the ‘Ndrangheta. The group may control as much as 80 percent of all of the cocaine entering Europe, a major source for the group's massive criminal profits, estimated at $60 billion a year, which is akin to the GDP of Croatia or Bulgaria, according to CNN.