HomeNewsBriefRio Militias and Their Complex Empire of Legal Businesses
BRIEF

Rio Militias and Their Complex Empire of Legal Businesses

BRAZIL / 8 JAN 2021 BY CHRIS DALBY EN

As part of a mounting campaign going after criminal finances, police in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro have asked courts to seize control of legal businesses used by militia groups to launder money.

This week, Rio’s anti-money laundering task force filed a request with the city’s judiciary to seize businesses that are legally registered and have paid all their taxes but have been used as fronts by militias, Globo reported. If approved, the companies would be taken over by administrators and continue to operate legally, but any profits would be used for police funding. The police stated this was to avoid any inconvenience to customers.

Last October, police shut down eight pharmacies across Rio de Janeiro for allegedly being used as money laundering fronts.

SEE ALSO: Militias Become Luxury Real Estate Barons in Rio de Janeiro

A week earlier, another raid led to the seizure of the “militia’s pharmacy,” a locale filled with medicine destined to be sold illegally, including controlled substances. The business was reportedly linked to the Nova Iguaçu militia, led by Wellington da Silva Braga, alias “Ecko,” the city’s most wanted man.

But pharmacies are just the tip of the money laundering iceberg. Over the last two months, police operations in Rio de Janeiro have reportedly seized assets worth 800 million reais ($150 million) from militia groups.

Militias have not been the only targets of this strategy. In October, InSight Crime reported that raids across dozens of cities had also sought to dismantle the finances of Brazil’s largest criminal gangs, Red Command (Comando Vermelho – CV) and the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC).

The state of Rio de Janeiro’s interim governor, Claudio Castro, stated this week that “the police’s strategy is to arrest these gangs and to asphyxiate them financially, to curb all these money laundering practices."

InSight Crime Analysis

It is encouraging to see the police make concerted efforts to target the finances of militias, now believed to have taken over from drug gangs as Rio’s largest criminal threat. But shuttering front businesses is just a first step, given the range of money laundering options available to these groups.

Militias -- often made up of current and former soldiers, police and firefighters -- have developed complex criminal economies throughout the city, such is their level of control. Residents in certain neighborhoods are often forced to rely on the militias to access essential services, including water, electricity, and internet access. The groups oversee real estate transactions, administer car parks and allow businesses to stay open or not, collecting rich extortion proceeds from the lot.

SEE ALSO: Despite Recent Arrests, Rio’s Militias Are Here to Stay

In an investigation dedicated to how the militias conducted business, Brazilian media UOL described militia bosses as current or former public officials "who act like feudal lords and strategize like capitalist executives.”

Their criminal governance faces few restrictions since the militias often find willing partners to collaborate within legal business sectors. “Merchandise warehouses and logistics companies like having the militia around to prevent cargo theft. The legal system makes arrangements with the illegal system,” Alba Zaluar, an anthropology professor at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (Universidade Estadual do Rio de Janeiro – UERJ), told UOL.

Despite their involvement in a range of illegal activities, militias still enjoy broad impunity. The aforementioned militia boss, da Silva Braga, is Rio’s most-wanted man and facing charges in nine different cases. Yet, according to a profile by Globo, he travels around the city with his own security escort, lives in luxury houses and frequently interacts with police officers and drug traffickers alike.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 9 SEP 2022

Brazil's border town of Corumbá is a well-known smuggling route from Bolivia. This is unlikely to change soon.

BRAZIL / 2 MAR 2021

Illegal fishing off the coast of French Guiana surged amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as French maritime patrols struggled to mobilize…

ARMS TRAFFICKING / 18 MAR 2022

Brazilian authorities recently dismantled a criminal network trafficking weapons from the US to Brazil with a twist: The gang imported…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…