More police arrested than traffickers in Rio Operation Calabar

More police arrested than traffickers in Rio’s biggest ever corruption operation

Operation Calabar has warrants for the arrest of almost 100 military policemen in Rio de Janeiro
Brazil Culture

Early this morning, police in Rio de Janeiro began arrests in what is potentially the state’s biggest-ever operation of its kind. Rio Operation Calabar, which began its secret investigations more than a year ago, is aiming to tackle police corruption.

Civil police forces in Rio’s crime-ridden São Gonçalo region have warrants to arrest 96 military police. Operation Calabar also aims to arrest 70 suspected drug traffickers as it tackles links between police and traffickers.

Rio Operation Calabar swung into its arrests phase this morning. By 8:30 AM, agents had already arrested 41 people, including 36 military police. The state’s civil police have a further 143 warrants for pre-trial detentions.

Among the officers arrested, some are in active service as military police in São Gonçalo. Arrest warrants include accusations such as police agents receiving a cut of trafficking profits. Investigators believe these cuts amount to approximately 1 million BRL per month for military police agents.

Rio Operation Calabar: intensive investigations

The operation received its first clues a year ago when a retired police officer was killed in February 2016. Officers on the scene at the time noted their suspicion of a vehicle, which passed the scene several times. Agents approached the vehicle, and ended up confiscating bribes amounting to 28,000 BRL.

This money turned out to be a kickback received by military police in the area, paid by traffickers. Afterwards, police began an intensive investigation process and intercepted more than 250,000 calls. Agents examined over 2,000 dialogues and identified suspects from hundreds of officers and more than 50 communities.

As well as direct interactions between police and traffickers, investigators also have evidence that police used ‘brokers’. Locals seen as ‘reliable’ would be tasked with discretely collecting bribes, using locations such as bakeries as fronts. On other occasions, military police – both uniformed and undercover – would approach traffickers directly.

The investigation shows Rio’s military police agents acting as ‘crime retailers’. Every week, between Thursday and Sunday, military police circulated São Gonçalo for the sole purpose of collecting payments from traffickers. Further accusations include offering services to traffickers, such as loaning rifles and other weapons, and escorting criminal groups between destinations.

Historic connections

Rio’s police have connections to the state’s drug trafficking networks, which are infamously resilient to operations. Similar operations in recent years have taken place. In 2006, police arrested 75 military police on similar grounds, while in 2012 they arrested another 59 for allegedly running a drug ring.

This morning, the operation deployed approximately 800 officers and 110 delegates to carry out the arrests. The operation’s name comes from Domingos Fernandes Calabar, who helped the Dutch invade Brazil in the early 17th century. Some say he is Brazil’s biggest traitor.