Police in Brazil have dismantled a gang dedicated to trafficking arms and drugs between Paraguay and Rio de Janeiro, further evidence of Paraguay's status as South America's contraband hub.
The operation, named "São Domingos," involved a 10-month investigation and saw the seizure of at least $4 million of drugs (436 kilos of cocaine and 6.5 tons of marijuana) as well as arms (including rifles and ammunition). A total of 21 people were arrested, reported G1. Estadao placed the value of the recovered drugs and arms at around $8.2 million.
According to Estadao, the operation culminated in a series of raids on March 20, in which around 100 Brazilian federal police entered 24 properties in the states of São Paulo, Matto Grosso do Sul and Rio de Janeiro.
The group had been trafficking drugs and arms between the Paraguayan border city of Pedro Juan Caballero and Rio de Janeiro, using the São Paulo state municipality of Catanduva -- roughly the midway point of the journey -- as a storage location for illicit goods, reported Paraguay's ABC.
Police became aware of the activities of the group after a couple was detained in May 2013 on a highway near Catanduva with 52 kilos of cocaine in their possession.
InSight Crime Analysis
Brazilian organized crime activity along the border with Paraguay has been notably increasing in recent years, with Paraguayan drugs chief Luis Rojas admitting in March that groups such as the Red Command (CV) and First Capital Command (PCC) had taken root in the country, and naming Pedro Juan Caballero as one operational center.
While no larger organization has been linked to this recent bust, Paraguayan authorities have previously captured members of the Rio-based PCC operating in Pedro Juan Caballero. It is possible such a network transporting drugs and guns was affiliated to one or another group, with a spate of killings in and around Pedro Juan Caballero this year attributed to a turf war between Brazilian criminal groups.
SEE ALSO: Coverage of PCC
Though Paraguay does not produce weapons, it is a key hub for arms trafficking, with lax laws and guns often coming into the country from Brazil, where they are sold between criminals before being trafficked back. In 2012, Amnesty International estimated there were 700,000 illegal guns in the country.
Paraguay is also a prominent transit point for cocaine, as well as South America's largest marijuana producer, facts that have prompted the incursion of Brazilian organized crime into the country.