PORTO NACIONAL, Brazil – In a luxurious house in the city of Goiatuba, in Goiás state, Mário Sérgio Machado Nunes led a drug trafficking organization that reached more than 30 countries, according to Federal Police.
Operation Deep Waters (Águas Profundas) dismantled Nunes’s gang on May 23. But the police and Interpol are still pursuing the 57-year-old drug lord.
“We have a perimeter set up domestically,” said Chief Umberto Ramos Rodrigues, executive director of the Federal Police in Goiás and the operation’s coordinator. “Since there are always risks he’ll cross international borders, we have asked for Interpol’s help in this search.”
Around 250 police officers and 25 employees of Federal Revenue were involved in the investigation, which lasted two and a half years. It required 85 warrants, 10 of which were for preventive custody, 28 for coercive conduct, and 47 for search and seizure in seven states, according to the Federal Police.
Five persons connected with the trafficking ring were arrested, according to Bruno Pereira Gama, Chief of the Drug Enforcement Division. But when the police arrived at Nunes’s house, he had already fled.
Nunes’s career in organized crime has lasted about 30 years. He was arrested for the first time in 1985, for drug trafficking in Londrina, in Paraná state. In 1996, he was caught in Cape Verde, Africa, transporting 73 kilograms of cocaine from Brazil in a small plane.
In 1999, he was arrested again with 141 kilograms of cocaine in Buriticupu, in Maranhão state, while bringing the drug from Colombia.
According to Federal Police, he had business dealings with Colombian traffickers since the time of Pablo Escobar, who was considered one of the world’s biggest drug traffickers until he was killed in a confrontation with the police in 1993.
Nunes’ high degree of professionalism surprised the investigators. Gama said the organization had weekly sales of R$5 million (US$2.2 million) and distributed cocaine to more than 30 countries.
The gang was highly sophisticated and had a complex logistical structure.
“They used companies in various fields such as currency exchange offices, farms, and agribusinesses to launder money. The logistical structure included everything from airports to ports,” said Gama.
The Federal Courts confiscated the alleged gang’s assets valued at R$100 million (US$45 million). These included a hotel, dozens of cars, a villa, four beach apartments and five city apartments, six houses, 26 lots, and nine farms – one of which, in Mato Grosso, is on sale for R$40 million (US$18 million) – and more.
In addition to leading the gang, the drug trafficker gave other criminal groups “consultations.”
“He was the head of his group, but he also helped other organizations. We’ve discovered that this kingpin from Goiás also advised various people who were arrested in other operations,” Gama said.
Submarines and planes
According to the Federal Police, criminals purchased drugs in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, and Paraguay and distributed them in various countries, including the United States, China, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Arab Emirates, Angola, and Italy.
Nunes also worked to develop new methods for smuggling cocaine abroad. The chief explained that Operation Deep Waters got its name because of Nunes’s plans to build semi-submersible drug trafficking vessels, dubbed narco-submarines.
Narco-submarines can navigate at a maximum depth of 7 meters and can carry five crew members and five tons of cocaine. The vessels were constructed by Colombian engineers at a mining company in Guinea, in Africa.
“Finishing the project was only a matter of buying parts,” said Gama, adding that Nunes had already invested US$20 million in building the vessels.
In addition to the submarine, criminals tried to purchase a commercial Boeing 737 and form an international airline to transport the drug without raising suspicions.
“The gang’s focus was on developing international trafficking, not domestic. Brazil was just a transit country,” said Gama, adding that the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org can be used for anonymous tips regarding the drug trafficker’s whereabouts.
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