One of the largest suspected drug traffickers in the world, Sergio Roberto de Carvalho, a former Brazilian army major, has been arrested in Hungary after a prolonged manhunt.
On June 21, Carvalho was arrested living under a fake identity in Hungary, after a joint operation by local and Portuguese investigators. Few details about the arrest have been released but it appears he had been living in the country using a fake Mexican passport.
After being arrested in Spain under another fake name in 2020, Carvalho had disappeared without a trace. According to media reports earlier this year, Carvalho was rumored to have spent time in Portugal, Ukraine and Dubai since fleeing from Spain.
A former Brazilian military police officer, he was the alleged leader of a colossal drug trafficking network which moved drugs from Brazil to Europe, Africa and Asia. An investigation, published last year by local Brazilian newspaper, Tribuna do Norte, detailed how Carvalho’s network is believed to have moved over 17 tons of cocaine between 2017 and 2021 from Brazil’s northeastern port of Natal to the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and Portugal. However, he may have moved up to 45 tons of drugs by also using Brazil’s other large ports, including Santos, Rio de Janeiro, Fortaleza and Paranaguá.
In February 2022, InSight Crime reported that Carvalho may have been the mastermind behind a sprawling, intercontinental drug trafficking network which connected Bolivia, Brazil, Paraguay, Spain and Dubai. Coordinated security raids, codenamed Operation Turf, brought down much of this network earlier this year and found that millions in drug money had been laundered through racehorses, real estate and luxury vehicles in Brazil.
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Carvalho was known as the “Brazilian Pablo Escobar” and the sheer scale of his alleged operations certainly lived up to that moniker. He moved hundreds of millions of dollars in cocaine around the world, bought private jet companies to help transport shipments, and was a master at using convincing fake identities.
His whereabouts had been unknown since August 2020. At that time, he was arrested living in a luxury mansion in the Spanish city of Marbella for suspected cocaine trafficking. However, he was detained under the fake identity of a Surinamese national named Paul Wouter. According to Brazilian news site Globo, Spanish authorities did not know they were dealing with Carvalho. After paying his bail, he faked his own death, sending a certificate to Spanish authorities, explaining that Wouter had died of COVID-19.
After Brazilian authorities notified Spain that Wouter was really Carvalho, attention fell on Portugal who found numerous assets in the major’s name. After months of investigations, police seized a van containing 12 million euros in cash parked in a Lisbon garage. It was believed this was the product of Carvalho’s drug trafficking earnings from having lived up to two years in Portugal, prior to Marbella.
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Gradually, his network began to be taken down, unveiling a colossal international portfolio of assets.
While in Portugal, he allegedly bought a private charter flight company, Airjetsul, based in Cascais outside Lisbon and tried to buy another to move cocaine and cash, according to CNN Portugal.
Much of his finances were apparently run from Dubai, where his alleged right-hand man, Marcelo Maghenzani maintained an office in one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. Maghenzani was arrested in May 2021, and was believed to have booked flights and kept credit cards for Carvalho, as well as providing him with the false papers for Paul Wouter, the identity he used in Spain, according to Brazilian news site, UOL.
Over the years, 163 properties have been seized in Brazil connected to Carvalho, as well as others in Portugal, Spain and Dubai. Alongside this, 37 planes, 70 cars and millions of euros in cash have been seized on both sides of the Atlantic.