Elusive 'Drug Baron' Of Brazil Nabbed

Jul 2, 2017
Originally published on July 2, 2017 4:09 pm

Brazilian police say they have arrested the head of an international drug trafficking ring, whose facial plastic surgeries and violent acts of intimidation helped him evade capture for nearly three decades and make him the country's "most wanted."

Luiz Carlos da Rocha's criminal organization was a major supplier of cocaine abroad, including to the United States, according to police.

Federal police announced Rocha's arrest in a statement Saturday. They found him in the city of Sorriso in the central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso and living under the alias of Vitor Luiz de Moraes.

Rocha earned the nickname Cabeça Branca, Portuguese for White Head, police say, because he lived "in the shadows" like a "ghost."

NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Rio de Janeiro that Rocha had been passing himself off "as a prosperous agriculturalist, with a wife and small son."

And yet, police say, he was one of South America's biggest traffickers leading an international operation of "extreme danger and violence," fortified by armored cars and large caliber weapons.

The group operated like a business, producing drugs deep in the jungles of Bolivia, Peru and Colombia, transporting them to warehouses in Paraguay and Brazil and eventually distributing them to criminal factions inside Brazil with a focus on export to Europe and the United States, according to the statement.

Police estimate that every month, Rocha's organization introduced five tons of cocaine into the market.

Police seized around $10 million in equity from Rocha, but say his assets could be worth up to $100 million in the form of vehicles, real estate and bank accounts.

The second phase of "Operation Spectrum" will focus on following the money trail. Police say Rocha could be facing decades in prison.

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