Senior security officials in Brazil’s northern state of Amazonas have been dismissed in a growing scandal, potentially revealing alarming levels of corruption in an area rife with organized crime.
Federal Police carried out 17 search and seizure warrants on August 29 as part of an Operation Comboio, or “convoy,” investigating organized crime, corruption, money laundering, and embezzlement within the Amazonas state security agency, which oversees all the state’s civil and military police operations.
So far, six officials have been arrested and/or dismissed, including the head of the state security agency, Carlos Alberto Mansur, who has denied the charges in a letter posted on social media. Mansur’s son, Victor Mansur, who headed a special traffick violation unit within the agency, has also been arrested for his alleged involvement in gold theft and bribery.
“This is icing on the cake if you can call it that,” a member of the Amazonas state legislature, Wilker Barreto, said in a statement about Mansur’s dismissal. “It’s the crowning disaster of a non-existent public security policy and of a secretary devoid of the moral character to be in charge.”
Amazonas’ state security agency has previously seen corruption among lower-ranking officials. An investigation in July 2021 led to criminal charges against an intelligence officer and civil police officer accused of extorting gold from wildcat miners.
The state of Amazonas is almost entirely covered by the Amazon rainforest. Its capital Manaus is a hub for illegal gold mined elsewhere in the Amazon region as well as a transit point for cocaine smuggled from Peru and Colombia.
Since his election in October 2022, Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has taken action to fulfill his promise to fight deforestation and environmental crime in the Amazon, including launching security force operations to expel wildcat miners from protected lands, challenging new illegal logging projects in court, and announcing social and economic support for those whose survival depends on illegal mining and logging. In July, the country recorded a 60% drop in deforestation in comparison to the July previous.
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While this is not the state’s first corruption case, few high-ranking Amazonas officials have been directly linked to environmental crime. This stands in contrast to other states in the Brazilian Amazon, like Roraima, where security officials have been charged with providing weapons and leaking information to illegal mining groups.
Operation Comboio demonstrates that Amazonas state is by no means immune however, adding another challenge to the fight to save the Brazilian Amazon.
Officials in the state’s security agency capitalized on their authority to participate in criminal activity directly, allegedly using privileged information to extort members of criminal organizations. In fact, the operation’s name refers to allegations that officials used government vehicles in their criminal activities, organizing them into convoys with escorts.
The case adds to growing evidence of endemic corruption across military and state security forces in the Brazilian Amazon.
“It certainly seems that there are elements within the armed forces who are not only opposed to an agenda of fighting illegal mining, illegal land grabs, and of protecting indigenous rights in the Amazon but are possibly themselves connected to and invested in some of the activities,” Benjamin Lessing, a University of Chicago expert on criminal conflict and corruption in Brazil, told InSight Crime.
It is yet another challenge in Lula’s already complicated fight to curb crime in the Amazon rainforest, complicating the oft-proposed solution of increasing security presence. Expanding the mandate and authority of security forces will only work if the kind of high-level corruption seen in Operation Comboio does not derail the mission.
“When you have a tradition of corruption in the police and security-related bureaucracies then you face a real dilemma,” Lessing said. “ The more repressive power you give, the more you invest in their ability to crack down on criminals … the more you increase their power to extort bribes and illicit rents from the people they’re supposed to be fighting.”
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