This article was published at InSight Crime.
Authorities in Brazil have seized documents shedding new light on the expanding finances, membership and international reach of the country’s biggest crime group. But whether that information can be used to strike a significant blow against the gang remains unclear.
São Paulo state police officers and prosecutors discovered a trove of internal documents belonging to the First Capital Command (Primeiro Comando da Capital – PCC) that detail some of the crime group’s income streams, money laundering tactics and membership growth in Brazil and other countries, Estadão reported.
The documents point to the scale of the expansion the PCC has undergone in recent years.
According to estimates extrapolated by authorities from the documents, the PCC’s illicit activities earn the group at least $100 million and perhaps up to $200 million each year. The lower figure is more than double official estimates of the PCC’s annual income in 2015.
The documents also contained a recent PCC census that shows explosive growth in the group’s membership.
In its home state of São Paulo, authorities estimate the PCC has nearly doubled its ranks from 6,000 in 2012 to almost 11,000 today. Elsewhere in Brazil, the number of PCC members is estimated to have grown from just over 3,000 in 2014 to more than 20,000 today.
Additionally, the records illustrate how the PCC has managed its swelling ranks and finances.
According to the documents, unincarcerated PCC members pay a membership fee of 950 Brazilian reais ($250) per month. (Previous estimates suggest so-called “union dues” for incarcerated members range from 100 to 600 reais, or about $30 to $200, per month.) Based on these figures, membership fees bring the PCC upwards of $500,000 per year.
In order to handle these huge sums of dirty cash, the PCC has developed large-scale money laundering operations. For instance, the logs show that the group has purchased hundreds of gas stations with illicit funds.
The gang has also used currency exchange businesses to launder its proceeds. The logs show that the PCC transferred more than 4 million Brazilian reais (just over $1 million) to a single exchange house during just one two-week period in December 2017.
According to São Paulo authorities, the discovery of these internal documents came as part of an investigation into the February 2018 murders of two top PCC leaders: Fabiano Alves de Souza, alias “Paca,” and third-in-command Rogério Jeremias de Simone, alias “Gegê do Mangue.”
Investigators believe the slaying of Paca and Gegê do Mangue — considered the highest-ranking members of the PCC not behind bars — may have sparked a rift within the group’s leadership.
A PCC collaborator named Gilberto Aparecido dos Santos, alias “Fuminho,” may have ordered the killings without approval from the PCC’s top leader, Marco Willians Herbas Camacho, alias “Marcola.”
The week after Gegê do Mangue and Paca were killed, two of their presumed assassins, Wagner Ferreira da Silva, aliases “Waguininho” and “Cabelo Duro,” and his right-hand man José Adinaldo Moura, alias “Nado,” were also murdered.
Authorities said they uncovered the documents during a search of Nado’s home following his killing.
InSight Crime Analysis
The discovery of the PCC files could aid authorities in developing an updated picture of the rapidly expanding crime group’s structure and finances. But the information gleaned so far does not appear to be bringing investigators any closer to understanding the true inner workings of the gang or how to combat it.
Karina Biondi, a professor at the State University of Maranhão and author of an ethnography of the PCC, told InSight Crime that the recently found documents are far from the first used by authorities to “deduce its size, its mode of operation, its structure.”
Biondi warned that although the internal documents clearly show that “the PCC keeps on growing,” the data is unlikely to change authorities’ narrow conception of the gang or their approach to tackling it, which has failed to stop the group from evolving into one of the most powerful and sophisticated criminal organizations in the world.
Benjamin Lessing, a professor at the University of Chicago who has analyzed similar PCC documents, also told InSight Crime that acquiring such internal documents can be a significant boost for authorities, who can take a “few shards of different ledgers” and “reconstruct something like a picture of [the PCC’s] overall business,” Lessing said.
But, Lessing said, police and prosecutors often miss the opportunity to carefully analyze the data to “understand what really makes the organization tick and how it is making decisions.”