Tip Allows Brazilian Drug Lord to Evade Arrest for the Second Time

The second attempt in two months to capture a major drug trafficker on the Brazil-Paraguay border failed because the plan was leaked to Antônio Joaquim Mendes Gonçalves da Mota, allowing him to escape, according to documents obtained by OCCRP.

Brazil Cocaine Arrests 1Police agents conducting a raid at the Mota Family residence. (Photo: Ministério Público Federal de Brasil, License)Two days before the operation, Mota texted his concerns to his now-detained chief bodyguard, Iuri da Silva Gusmão, saying that "he had to be vigilant about where he would go because 'they' [investigators] would be watching."

Mota was right. According to Brazil's Federal Public Prosecutor's Office, investigators had received a tip suggesting that he might be hiding at his uncle's rural property in a border town between Brazil and Paraguay.

One day before the operation that netted Gusmão but not Mota, Gusmão sent a message to his girlfriend indicating that he was facing "a problem." The message was followed by a screenshot of his conversation with Mota, which shows that the drug lord was expecting a police operation the next day, on June 30, and that he would be leaving his current location.

“Seriously?” Gusmão responded. Mota confirmed. "They already know," he replied.

The bodyguard inquired: "What do you mean?" Mota explained that someone had switched on a "dirty" (unsecured) cellphone, and that police had located the device. "I have to leave," he said.

Brazilian investigators obtained the exchange from the two cell phones they seized from Gusmão. The images of the conversations were then obtained by OCCRP.

Brazil's Federal Police launched the latest operation to arrest Antônio Joaquim Mendes Gonçalves da Mota, also known as Motinha or Dom, along with 16 other individuals for their association with a paramilitary criminal group engaged in securing the transportation and distribution of cocaine at drug delivery points and offering personal protection to Mota and his associates.

According to the investigation, Motinha and his father allegedly partnered with narcos linked to Brazil's prominent criminal group, Primeiro Comando da Capital, to transport cocaine from Paraguay to Brazilian ports, from where it was exported abroad.

Aircraft were used to transport the drugs from farms at the border of Brazil and Paraguay and deliver them to the Brazilian states of São Paulo and Paraná, where the illicit cargo was loaded onto trucks and taken to ports. In one of the seizures of hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, messages from Motinha to the pilot were found along with the drugs via a messaging app.

Gusmão told Brazilian investigators that he believes the Mota family is protected by the influence they have in Paraguayan politics. During the interrogation, Mota's chief bodyguard confessed he provided security for the President-elect of Paraguay, Santiago Peña, at the request of Motinha, according to authorities.

Messages exchanged between Motinha's girlfriend and Mothina’s father indicate that Gusmão was providing security for Peña during a rally last November in the Paraguayan city of Pedro Juan Caballero.

On the day of the elections in Paraguay, Motinha's girlfriend referred to Peña as "our" candidate, and upon learning of his victory, she informed the father that "we won.” He cheered.

Over 11 weeks after the operation, authorities are still searching for Mota, who has been the subject of an Interpol Red Notice, while Gusmão didn't have the same luck and ended up held in a Brazilian prison.