“Operação Chapa Branca“ (Operation White Raw Slab): Brazil’s federal police strike a blow against a ring of drug dealers who hid and shipped their contraband in natural stone slabs

Raw slabs of natural stone are often misused for illegal drug transports. Photo: Peter Becker

We have often reported on the creativity of drug dealers who like to come up with original hiding places for their illegal shipments, for example in natural stone rough blocks. Now comes a case from Brazil with international connections, where the investigators also showed creativity and wit: “Operação Chapa Branca,“ the federal police had called this action with which they succeeded in striking a heavy blow against the drug ring of the internationally active “Escobar brasileiro“ (Escobar of Brazil).

Arrested were numerous suspects from the states of Espírito Santo, Santa Catarina, Paraná, São Paulo, and Pernambuco, as well as one person in Hungary. Escobar Brasileiro himself, considered currently one of the most powerful drug traffickers in the world, had been arrested by investigators in Hungary in 2022. Before becoming a gangster, he was a high-ranking member of the Brazilian Federal Police.

The investigation had begun in October 2021, when the civil police of the state of Espírito Santo seized 350 kilograms of cocaine as they were being unloaded from a truck. They were to be exported to Europe hidden in a load of granite slabs.

The origin of the substance was Bolivia, destination Le Havre in France, from where it was to be distributed in Europe.

Brazilian ports are often used as a starting point for material from Peru, Bolivia or Colombia with Europe as a destination, investigators told a press conference. Santos (São Paulo state) and Paranaguá (Paraná state) traditionally play important roles in this. Apparently, the gangsters now wanted to try the route via the port of Vitória in Espírito Santo.

According to a television report, the transshipment of the drugs took place in the town of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim. It is a center of the stone sector in Espírito Santo. From there, it is not far to the international port of Vitória.

No further details were given by the authorities as to how the narcotics were to be hidden between the large slabs.

In March 2023, the United Nations Office on Drugs (UNODC) said that North Sea ports in Europe had become the main transshipment points for cocaine.

Crystal meth in marble blocks from Mexico.Nothing short of spectacular was a case from 2020, in which 732 kg of methamphetamine from Mexico were discovered hidden in marble blocks in Spain: the gangsters had drilled cylinders out of the stone and sealed them again with resin, the stone plug, and special concrete. The objects had attracted attention because of conspicuous features in the concrete.

A closer examination showed then that the addressee of the load from Mexico was not really active in the natural stone business, and the investigators began undercover investigations.

More impregnated blocks followed and also some devoid of illicit content.

Also in Spain, in April 2022, a court case involving a drug shipment from 2019 had caused a stir in the stone sector. At that time, it had been about 500 kg of crystal meth, which had arrived hidden in marble blocks in the port of Valencia and had been transported to different places in the province of Alicante. It was the most extensive drug stash of this kind that had ever been busted, and the four defendants had received a combined 44 years in prison and a €28.4 million fine.

They had run a marble company in the town of Novelda, which in reality made its money in other ways than marble, but no one had noticed.

The media had smugly taken up the case, so that the Association Mármol de Alicante felt compelled to make a public clarification, according to which, the sector had nothing to do with the fake natural stone company.

The photo shows a drug case in Karachi, Pakistan in 2016: the seized sachets were concealed inside marble souvenir pieces. Photo: UNODCOur photo shows a case in Karachi, Pakistan in 2016: according to a web page of the UN Drug Enforcement Agency, customs discovered 4.6 kg of heroin and 8.9 kg of crystal meth that were supposed to go from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. “The seized drugs were cleverly concealed in handcrafted marble souvenir pieces,” it says with admiration. From the photograph, one can surmise that the seized sachets were concealed inside marble souvenir pieces. These bore golden leaves and stood on a ring; they were probably intended to serve as noble apples for decoration.

Operação chapa Branca (Portuguese)

Mármol de Alicante (Spanish)


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(26.04.2023, USA: 04.26.2023)