The arrest of Sergio Roberto de Carvalho, one of the world’s most prolific and most wanted drug traffickers, in Hungary in late June brought an end to an intercontinental manhunt. But now, what happens next for him and his complex operation?
On July 6, Brazilian police swooped in on a range of targets across Brazil, including in the major cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, and the western state of Mato Grosso, to dismantle drug trafficking operations connected to de Carvalho. A number of planes were seized during the raids, as well as two tons of cocaine and assets worth 40 million reais (more than $7 million).
According to Globo, de Carvalho used the private airstrips of large ranches inside Mato Grosso to receive cocaine shipments coming from Peru and Bolivia. The drugs would be stored there and the aircraft’s registration prefixes would be changed illicitly. Then, the planes would be sent to other destinations in Brazil from where the drugs would be moved to Europe.
Investigators steadily zeroed in on the Mato Grosso airports after tracking three small planes registered with the same prefix and after a seizure of 1.3 tons of cocaine at the northeastern airport of Fortaleza was linked back to de Carvalho. During that August 2021 seizure, a Turkish pilot and Spanish passenger were arrested after police found the drugs hidden among 24 suitcases on a private jet bound for Belgium.
The dismantling of de Carvalho's network after his arrest on June 21 in Hungary is happening as he fights being extradited to Brazil. In his latest court hearing in Budapest, the man known as the Brazilian Pablo Escobar claimed he was a political prisoner and compared his fate to that of former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
During his June 23 hearing, de Carvalho made the odd claim that he “feared being tried by Brazilian justice in the way this court is accusing me, which coincidentally is the same court and the police officers who investigated President Lula,” according to the Brazilian news site UOL. His lawyer claimed that, as a former military police officer, de Carvalho would be targeted back home. “His extradition would be the same as a death sentence,” she told the court.
The judge extended his detention until August 2 and said the final decision about his extradition would be taken by Hungary’s Justice Minister, Judit Varga. Besides Brazil, Spain and Portugal have also requested his extradition.
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Three weeks on from his arrest, the race to bring de Carvalho to trial and unpack every detail of his drug trafficking and money laundering network is just beginning.
Since 2017, it is estimated that he moved at least 45 tons of cocaine from Brazilian ports to Spain, Portugal, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, and France, among others.
And while he is currently facing extradition to Brazil, other countries want a piece of him.
In Spain, he was first arrested in 2018 under the name of Paul Wouter, a Surinamese national. He was accused of being the owner of 1.7 tons of cocaine found on a ship. But after paying 200,000 euros and being out on bail, he had a doctor sign a fake death certificate, attesting Wouter had died of COVID-19 and disappeared.
In Portugal, he acquired buildings and homes in Lisbon through a shell company based in Dubai to allegedly launder his money. Furthermore, he reportedly bought one private charter flight company and tried to buy another at the aerodrome of Tires near Lisbon to help move cocaine and cash, according to CNN Portugal. Portuguese investigators eventually found a van containing 12 million euros in cash parked in a Lisbon garage.
Finally, while Dubai does not appear to be seeking his extradition, authorities have focused on dismantling the money laundering arm of de Carvalho’s network. 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 after allegedly taking care of de Carvalho’s administrative and financial needs.