The capture of Morabito and organised crime in Brazil
Europa and latin america / Organized crime

The capture of Morabito and organised crime in Brazil

31 May 2021

The capture of the fugitive Morabito after his escape from the Montevideo prison over 20 years ago is a victory for legality and a tangible example of the progress made in judicial and police cooperation in recent years, undoubtedly demonstrating the importance of legal diplomacy and technical assistance initiatives in justice and security.

In the capture operation, Carabinieri from Italy’s special departments have worked alongside the International Police Cooperation Service, Brazil’s Federal Police, the US DEA and Interpol.

Criminal connections between Latin America and Europe

The particular way in which Morabito managed to evade capture and the length of his time as a fugitive has attracted great attention as there is a consistently significant relationship between Italian-European organised crime and the most dangerous Brazilian and Latin American criminal organisations.

In particular, there are two large Brazilian criminal organisations that differ from the classic Mexican and Colombian cartels in their origins and the way in which they operate. These have grown within Brazil’s violent and overcrowded prison system, the fourth highest in the world in terms of the number of prisoners. A similar phenomenon occurred in Italy in the 1980s, with Raffaele Cutolo’s Nuova Camorra Organizzata (NCO).

Both the Comando Vermelho (CV) from Rio de Janeiro and the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) from São Paulo originated in and developed in prisons, becoming true South American transnational criminal gangs.

Brazil is the second-largest market in the world

These two groups have instigated bloody riots in the country’s prisons, firstly as allies and then as enemies. Both have demonstrated considerable capacity for aggregation within the country which has allowed them to increase their criminal reach and control drug trafficking and supply from producing countries, allowing Brazil to become the second-largest market in the world after the United States, with 2.8 million consumers.

At the end of 2016, the breakdown of the old alliance between the CV and the PCC generated a wave of violence in Brazilian detention centres which continued for years as the PCC established alliances with other gangs both domestic and international, seeking to achieve control of drug trafficking in the CV’s areas of influence.

The Primeiro Comando da Capital is currently expanding. According to a Brazilian government report, it is considered the largest and best organised criminal group in the region, with some 40,000 members, multimillion-dollar revenues and strong support among inmates.

On 31 August 1993, a group of eight inmates who had been transferred to the Taubaté Penitentiary, at that time considered to be the safest prison in the State of São Paulo, formed the PCC, expanding within a number of prisons through violence, organisation and revolts against penitentiary institutions. The Primeiro Comando da Capital was responsible for various criminal acts to gain control of prisons, organising riots and escapes and carrying out crime. Over time, it began to focus on drug trafficking in order to finance its operations. The existence of the PCC was first reported on by journalist Fatima Souza in 1997.

The organisation, which has a vertical mafia-like structure, is divided into sintonias – a number of groups, each with its own specific role. The sintonia do financeiro manages financial aspects, the sintonia dos gravatas covers the payment of lawyers’ fees, the sintonia geral dos outros países is in charge of relations with foreign organisations while the sintonia da cebola helps the families of detainees. All of them belong to the sintonia final geral, which represents the overall leadership of the organisation. To make wiretapping by the police more difficult, the members of the organisation, like the Camorra in Italy, use Guaraní, the local language, to communicate with each other, a language that is difficult for Brazilians to understand.

The leader of the PCC is thought to be Marcos William Camacho, AKA Marcola, a drug trafficker and bank robber with intellectual pretensions who is currently detained in the Brasilia Federal Penitentiary.

Corruption, a strategy for consolidation

The Primeiro Comando da Capital has managed to form similar groups in other regions of the country (for example, in Mato Grosso and Paraná) and ally itself with the powerful Familia do Norte (FDN) in the Amazon, a key hub in the distribution of cocaine by river.

Thanks to the enormous influx of money, today it no longer has to resort to violence as its only instrument but can also rely on corruption. This strategy has allowed the organisation to grow stronger in Brazil’s five largest states to expand internationally, to the detriment of the fragmented drug traffickers in Rio de Janeiro.

The PCC’s aim is clear – by increasing its international expansion, it is seeking to carry out the project conceived by Pablo Escobar Gaviria, in other words, to head up a single organisation that controls the entire drug market in the south of the continent (Narcosur).

The Morabito case raises the question of whether the PCC has reached agreements with the ’Ndrangheta and European criminal groups for the supply of cocaine throughout Europe.

EL PAcCTO (Europe-Latin America Assistance Programme against Transnational Organised Crime) is a European Union-funded international cooperation programmethat seeks to contribute to security and justice in Latin America by supporting the fight against transnational organised crime.

Among the various actions carried out in Latin America, it is worth highlighting the EL PAcCTO programme, which focuses on the fight against organised trans-national crime, encompassing the entire criminal chain to avoid the risk posed by the infiltration by the most dangerous criminal groups in the penitentiary systems and improve their management.


Giovanni Tartaglia Polcini, coordinator of EL PAcCTO’s Prison Systems Component

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