An agreement between a Brazilian court and Dario Messer, the key financier behind one of South America’s largest money laundering operations, ends proceedings against him in that country, but his cooperation could have far-reaching implications for powerful figures in the region.
On August 12, a federal court in Rio de Janeiro approved a cooperation agreement with Messer, who will face a prison sentence of 18 years and nine months and will return around 1 billion reais ($184 million) in funds, according to the Folha de São Paulo newspaper.
Messer has been in custody since July 2019 and, according to the terms of the agreement, will have to spend at least two more years in prison before being eligible for house arrest. Prior to turning himself in to Brazilian authorities, Messer had been charged with money laundering crimes in both Brazil and Paraguay.
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Messer was a crucial actor in money laundering schemes that emerged during Operation Car Wash, an investigation into how the Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht paid millions in bribes to political leaders across Latin America. Most notably, he allegedly masterminded a vast operation that moved $1.6 billion across more than 3,000 bank accounts in 52 countries between 2011 and 2017.
He also reportedly helped important Brazilian politicians, including former Rio de Janeiro governor Sérgio Cabral, launder embezzled public funds. Cabral was sentenced to over 45 years in prison in 2017 on corruption charges.
Brazilian authorities estimate that Messer accumulated a vast fortune by charging commissions for handling the illegal transactions. He is slated to return 99 percent of these assets as part of the cooperation agreement.
InSight Crime Analysis
Messer’s arrest unveiled a colossal money laundering scheme, which could have significant political fallout in Brazil and Paraguay, but it is not the first scandal he has been involved in.
Since the late 1990s, authorities have linked him to other such ventures, including the Banestado case in which Brazilian politicians and business figures used the country’s banking system to send hundreds of millions of dollars abroad. He is also implicated in the Mensalão case, in which Brazil's Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores – PT) was accused of bribing deputies to support key legislation.
Seemingly due to his wide-ranging contacts and meticulous planning, Messer managed to stay one step ahead of the law and evade capture, two of his associates told Brazilian prosecutors in 2018.
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But increased scrutiny under Operation Car Wash, as well as the passing of lighter sentences for those willing to cooperate, saw some of Brazil’s most powerful political and business figures fall. This left Messer exposed.
He was eventually arrested in São Paulo in July 2019.
And while he has now been sentenced in Brazil, his agreement could have severe implications in Paraguay. Messer is facing a separate investigation in the country for allegedly running a money laundering network involving former Paraguayan president Horacio Cartes (2013-2018) and others. In November 2019, Brazil’s Attorney General’s Office announced that Cartes may have sent $500,000 to Messer and requested his extradition.
While the extradition request was contested and did not happen, a Rio de Janeiro judge ordered in July that Cartes be interrogated as part of the Messer investigation.