Brazil has launched one of its largest operations against cattle rustling, revealing how thieves swindle ranchers, steal thousands of animals and resell them across the country.
According to media, police in Brazil’s southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul dismantle a criminal organization that stole about 12,000 head of cattle and then resold them as far as the northern state of Tocantins, 2,600 kilometers away, according to media reports.
The police first learned of the thefts after a complaint lodged by around 70 ranchers, who were allegedly tricked into handing over their cattle for free. Citing police sources, RBS TV revealed the suspects collected cattle from the ranchers and paid them in post-dated checks connected to empty bank accounts.
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Once collected, the animals were moved in trucks to the state’s central provinces of Formigueiro and Caçapava do Sul. From there, they were sold to farmers in other states. In total, police estimate the operation resulted in financial losses of up to 30 million reais (just under $5.8 million) for the rancher.
One rancher in Formigueiro told RBS TV that he handed over 542 cattle to one of the suspects but never received the agreed payment of some 500,000 reais (over $96,500).
Another rancher said he lost 70 cattle to the scheme. His father and brother were also cheated of sales.
In early July, police seized some 12,000 cattle across the states of São Paulo, Tocantins, Mato Grosso do Sul and Rio Grande do Sul, showing how the stolen cows had been sold across large parts of the country.
InSight Crime Analysis
These recent cases suggest cattle thieves in Rio Grande do Sul are adopting more sophisticated methods and how authorities are taking an increasingly proactive response to the underreported crime.
In this case, cattle were taken in large numbers and sold to farmers in other states. They were reportedly sold at prices lower than their market value to speed up transactions and cover up the fact they had been stolen.
But most often, cattle rustling occurs at a more localized level, usually in the same state. Stolen animals are often sold to slaughterhouses or thieves kill the cattle themselves before selling their meat to grocery stores, restaurants and butchers. Some also steal the animals, move them, slaughter them and then sell their meat directly to consumers.
This latest scheme required the suspects to build up trusting relationships with ranchers to then defraud them of their cattle under the premise of a legal transaction. And thousands of animals were involved, a far cry from the small numbers usually stolen when ranchers are not around.
On the positive side, the success of this investigation suggests authorities across Brazil are teaming up to target the underreported, often unpunished, crime.
In late June, it was reported that a bill proposing the use of a comprehensive livestock tracking system was being debated by the city council of Dom Pedrito, a municipality found in the southern Rio Grande do Sul. If passed, the law will introduce a database of cattle brands and signs that authorities targeting cattle theft could consult via a cellphone application to check for irregularities.
And in April, a large-scale operation targeted livestock theft across Valle Verde, a municipality in the east of Rio Grande do Sul. Later that month, GZH reported the operation had resulted in the region's largest cattle seizure by police to date.
Reported incidences of cattle theft in Rio Grande do Sul fell from 1,286 across the first quarter of 2020, compared to 945 recorded during the same period in 2021.