A news report in Brazil, citing a government investigation, says the PCC criminal organization uses bank accounts in the United States and China to launder money, illustrating how the São Paulo gang is, in some ways, using Brazil's increasing economic ties with countries such as China to hide their illegal businesses.
Estadão says an investigation conducted by police and the public ministry in São Paulo revealed the First Capital Command's (PCC) financial operations in the United States and China, where the group maintains bank accounts to launder drug trafficking proceeds and purchase drugs and weapons. According to the government investigation, the PCC uses five front companies and at least one foreign exchange brokerage to send money to both countries, and operates the accounts from computers in Paraguay.
Investigators discovered the existence of the accounts thanks to documents seized during a December 22, 2014, raid at a foreign exchange brokerage in São Paulo.
InSight Crime Analysis
Criminal groups are often reflections of businesses in their countries of origin, and, in that respect, the PCC's move to use the Chinese as an economic base is not surprising. Brazil is the world's seventh largest economy, and China became Brazil's largest export destination in 2009. Camouflaging illicit business under those circumstances is far easier.
Still, to think that the PCC started as a São Paulo prison gang makes the transformation something special. The PCC has expanded throughout Brazil and into Paraguay, South America's largest marijuana producer and a major cocaine transit nation. In addition, the criminal group has sent emissaries to Bolivia and allegedly forged ties with Italy's 'Ndrangheta mafia and the Islamic militia group Hezbollah.
In July of last year, a police operation that led to the arrests of 40 alleged PCC members identified one key PCC member, Wilson Jose Lima de Oliveira, alias "Neno," operating out of the United States. According to Estadão, authorities believe Oliveira was sent to the United States to make contact with Mexican drug cartels.
SEE ALSO: PCC News and Profile
China appears to be the latest country in the PCC's expanding international network, but the PCC is far from the first Latin American criminal organization with a Chinese connection. Mexican authorities have seized shipments of methamphetamine precursor chemicals originating in China, while iron from illegal mines controlled by Mexico's Knights Templar allegedly supplies Chinese markets. In Colombia, Chinese weapons have been seized from the Rastrojos criminal group, and in Central America, Chinese buyers allegedly facilitate wood trafficking in Nicaragua and Honduras.
Meanwhile, China is increasingly investing in Latin America, spending over $13 billion on foreign direct investment in Brazil in 2010 and reportedly planning to increase investment in Brazilian infrastructure, ties that may make illicit dealings between criminal groups in both nations far more common.