Brazil's Most Powerful Militia Leader Arrested

Published: 29 December 2023

Brazil Police ArrestThe Brazilian Federal Police captured Luís Antônio da Silva Braga, alias "Zinho" after negotiations with the Justice League militia patrons. (Photo: Polícia Federal, License)

By Lieth Carrillo

The Brazilian Federal Police arrested Sunday a highly sought-after fugitive, who leads a militia that controls one of Rio de Janeiro’s most dangerous zones.

Luís Antônio da Silva Braga, a.k.a "Zinho," is the current leader of the Justice League. The criminal organization operates out of Rio de Janeiro's West Zone, an area contested by militias and drug gangs for dominance over the local favelas.

A fugitive since 2018, he has had no less than 12 arrest warrants issued in his name.

Zinho’s arrest followed negotiations between his backers, the Federal Police, and the Rio de Janeiro State Public Security Secretariat, authorities said. He surrendered himself to federal officers.

He was then taken to the country’s Legal Medical Institute and transferred to the state penitentiary system, where he remains in custody.

"By dismantling these criminal groups with arrests, seizures and financial blockades and the arrest of this mafioso, we are fighting crime head on. We're not going to stop," said Cláudio Castro, governor of Rio de Janeiro.

Luís Antônio da Silva Braga replaced his brother Wellington da Silva Braga, "Ecko," as head of the Justice League after the latter's death. He was a partner in the company Macla Comércio e Extração de Saibro, reportedly used to move the criminal organization's money.

In 2015, da Silva Braga was arrested in a Civil Police operation against Rio's West Zone militias, but later released by court order.

The Justice League was initially formed by police and civilians to combat violent drug gangs in the city, but later became involved in criminal activities. They soon after spread to other regions of the country, facilitated by security forces and local government officials, according to InSight Crime.

Criminal ventures employed by the Justice League include money laundering, extortion, property confiscation, illegal tax collection, and even sand and gravel extraction, a scheme in which Zinho was implicated.