The culmination of a three-year investigation has showcased the important role Brazil’s southern port of Paranaguá plays in supplying cocaine to Europe, with gangs there in close contact with Italian mafia organizations.
On March 24, a joint operation across three Brazilian states, Paraná, Santa Catarina and São Paulo, arrested 17 people on suspicion of sending tons of cocaine over the last two years to various ports in Europe from Paranaguá, according to a police statement.
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Authorities stated a gang used a wide range of methods to smuggle cocaine onboard cargo ships, including the most widely-used “rip-on/rip-off” technique, where a legitimate container is contaminated with drugs inside the departure port and retrieved at the arrival port, often with the complicity of port workers. However, the gang also used divers to place drugs in hidden compartments on the hull of ships, placed cocaine packages inside container refrigeration units or placed them among shipments of timber, orange juice and sugar.
During an investigation that began in 2019, investigators discovered this southern Brazilian gang was in close connection with a criminal organization in the southern Italian region of Calabria, which took care of the logistics to receive the cocaine in European ports, including Le Havre in France.
Port workers and truck drivers in Paranaguá allegedly worked with the group, letting them know which containers were bound for Europe.
Multiple drug seizures have been made in recent months at Brazil’s fifth-largest port. In February, loads of cocaine were found in containers going to Spain and Germany. And in 2020, 23 separate seizures were made, reaching 4.39 tons of cocaine.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite dozens of seizures a year, the size of cocaine loads found at Paranaguá means it is still a long way from matching the volume of drugs being moved out of the port of Santos, near São Paulo. For comparison, Santos saw almost 17 tons of cocaine seized in 2021.
However, the connections this investigation found in São Paulo and Calabria suggest the port of Paranaguá may be being used as an extension of the alliance between the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) and Italy’s ‘Ndrangheta. This partnership accounts for most of the cocaine traveling between Brazil and Europe, primarily shipped out of Santos.
And while the police have not revealed how many seizures in Paranaguá were carried out by this group, the multiple techniques used to contaminate ships and containers suggest it carried out regular operations, backed by strong logistics and plentiful resources.
The PCC has also had a major presence in Paraná for several years. In February 2022, 29 people were charged with money laundering for the PCC in Paranaguá. And in April 2021, Brazil’s military police were deployed across Paraná to stop fighting between the PCC and a rival group, Primeiro Group Catarinense (PGC).
While most cocaine flowing into Brazil from Bolivia and Paraguay follows routes to Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and ports in the northeast of the country, the southern route remains a viable alternative.