DEPT FOR WHA/BSC, DS, DS/DSS. DS/DSS/IP,DS/IP/WHA,DH/IP/NEA, DS/IP/ITA, DS/CR/CIL, DS/IP/IPO, WHA/PD, INLNSC FOR SUE CRONIN AND ZARATETREASURY FOR OFAC
E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/21/2015
TAGS: SNAR PTER ASEC PGOV ETTC EFIN SOCI BR
SUBJECT: BREAK-UP OF LEBANESE DRUG RING IN BRAZIL
REF: SAO PAULO 683
Classified By: A/CG DAVID WOLFE FOR REASONS 1.4(D)
¶1. (S) SUMMARY: On June 17, 2005, the Brazilian Federal Police (DPF) broke up a Lebanese-organized drug ring based in Sao Paulo and operating in a number of cites in southern Brazil. 8Operation Tamara,8 (thedate fruit in Portuguese,) involved coordinationwith the German federal police and U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration,s (DEA) Regional Office atConsulate General Sao Paulo (SPRO). Press repors on the operation specifically mentioned DEA,s nvolvement in the operation, although no direct inolvement of DEA personnel from Consulate Sao Paulo has yet been made in the press. The press also reported that DPF stated that the drugs seized, some 65 kilos of cocaine worth USD 400,000, came from Paraguay and Bolivia and were destined for Europe and the Middle East. Press reports indicated that in addition to the drug seizures, one goal of the DPF was to identify members of Hezbollah living and operating in Brazil. Post is attempting to ascertain if any of the arrested Lebanese drug traffickers have connections with Hezbollah or any terrorist group.
END SUMMARY PRESS SPOTLIGHTS INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS AND COOPERATION ——————————————— ————-
¶2. (SBU) On Friday, June 17, after eleven months of investigation, Brazilian Federal Police arrested 17 members of a Lebanese-organized drug ring operating in Sao Paulo and southern Brazil. Extensive press reports on the operation highlighted the transnational scope of the drug ring as well as international law enforcement cooperation with the DPF investigating the group. The press reports indicated that authorities believe that the ring, which comprises five Lebanese families, typically sends approximately 120 kilos of cocaine per month from Brazil to Europe and launders the proceeds by purchasing real estate and expensive luxury automobiles in Brazil and Lebanon. (Note: The reports differ on the quantity smuggled each month. End Note) Authorities reportedly believe that the drugs enter Brazil from Bolivia and Paraguay through the border city of Foz do Iguacu in the Brazil-Paraguay-Argentina tri-border region and from Ponta Pora on the border of the southwestern state of Mato Grosso do Sul State and Paraguay. Ring members reportedly transported the drugs to Sao Paulo, where they contracted Brazilian, Dutch, Canadian, Nigerian and South African couriers to smuggle the drugs to Frankfurt, Lisbon and locations in the Middle East, passing through the airports of Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, and Recife. Press reports indicate that the authorities first became aware of the drug-smuggling operation in June 2004, when three Americans were arrested on drug charges in Istanbul, after disembarking from a flight from Sao Paulo.
¶3. (U) Press reports indicate that the drug ring is believed to comprise several families of Lebanese descent who, having fled Lebanon during the 1980s, settled in Brazil, Germany and Switzerland. The press reports describe the confiscation of documents written in Arabic and a large, framed picture of the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, in one of the apartments of the ring members. The press indicated that USD 190,000 was found in the apartment of one of the ring members.
¶4. (U) Folha do Sao Paulo, Brazil’s largest circulation daily, reported that in addition to dismantling the drug ring, the DPF,s objective is to identify members of Hezbollah operating in Brazil. The same press article claims that Hezbollah has 140 members in Brazil. According to press statements, documents confiscated during Operation “Tamara” will be passed to international intelligence agencies for evaluation.
POST PERSPECTIVE ON THE OPERATION ———————————
¶5. (S) DEA personnel working with DPF agents note that a possible Hezbollah connection was not a focus during the course of the investigation. It should be noted that the GOB has consistently denied that any Hezbollah agents or agents of any other Middle Eastern terrorist organization operate in Brazil. Operational aspects of the case are being reported through DEA channels. Post DEA reports that the amount seized in the raid was closer to USD 300,000, not USD 190,000, as reported in the press.
¶6. (S) DEA began investigating the ring in cooperation with DPF after the three Americans were arrested in Istanbul, Turkey and one in Sao Paulo in 2004. In addition, two other Americans were arrested in Madrid and Amsterdam in early 2004 with links to this ring. Currently, DEA authorities in Florida are conducting investigations on these Americans and the Lebanese-Brazilian involved.
¶7. (S) COMMENT: DEA notes that one of the outstanding questions from this operation is the final destination for the profits of this lucrative cocaine trade. Past experience has been that Brazilian authorities lack effective tools to track the profits of illicit drug operations; coordination between financial officials and counter-narcotics agents has not been good. While DEA, DPF and German Federal Police were arresting members of the Brazilian drug ring in Operation Tamara, Ecuadorian authorities reportedly arrested seven operatives in a drug smuggling/Hezbollah ring in Quito, Ecuador in Operation Damascus. BBC On-Line indicates that organizers of the Ecuadorian ring were sending seventy percent of profits to Hezbollah.
¶8. (S) Regional Security Office (RSO) Sao Paulo is coordinating with DEA to determine whether any of the documents obtained in these, or other recent arrests include U.S. passports or visas. RSO is investigating any possible repercussions against post or personnel from these recent arrests, or from the press reports identifying DEA,s participation in the investigation. Post is attempting to determine whether any of the arrested Lebanese-Brazilians have connections to Hezbollah, or any other middle-eastern terrorist network. So far we have not found any evidence of such a connection. End Comment.