Police Find Fugitive Turkish Trafficker Imprisoned in Brazil Under False Name

Опубликовано: 03 Апрель 2024

eray ucEray Uç (Photo: São Paulo Civil Police, License)

A Turkish drug trafficker with alleged ties to Hezbollah has been found living under a false identity in a Brazilian prison after escaping incarceration in neighboring Paraguay more than six years ago, police have told OCCRP.

Authorities are now clearing the way to extradite Turkish national Eray Uç to Paraguay, where he faces cocaine trafficking charges, Brazilian police said.

Paraguay issued an international warrant for Uç with the global policing body Interpol after he managed to escape from detention in 2017, but he seemed to have disappeared into thin air.

Then, in February, São Paulo Civil Police discovered they had Uç in custody. He had been convicted on drug charges last year in Brazil, where he had assumed his older brother’s identity.

“After his arrest, the unit team confirmed that his fingerprints were not included in the Civil Police database and, after an exchange with intelligence agencies, his real identity was discovered,” a police spokesperson told OCCRP.

Fingerprint data provided by Interpol allowed police to identify the prisoner as Uç, according to a Brazilian court document that has not previously been made public.

Before fleeing to Brazil, Uç had been detained in Paraguay after the arrest of his alleged associate, Alí Issa Chamas, who was identified as “a suspected Hezbollah drug trafficker” during a 2018 hearing in the U.S. Congress.

Chamas had been attempting to send a shipment of cocaine to Turkey on a flight out of Guarani International Airport in the Tri-Border Area, a region on the frontiers of Paraguay, Brazil and Argentina that is a hotbed of organized crime.

Chamas told agents with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency that, back in his home country of Lebanon, his “clan was powerful and allied to Hezbollah.” Chamas, who also holds Paraguayan citizenship, was extradited to the U.S. and convicted for cocaine trafficking.

Meanwhile, information on Chamas’ mobile phone led investigators to Uç. Officers with Paraguay’s anti-drug agency, SENAD, were tipped off about a shipment allegedly connected to Uç that was due to leave Guarani Airport for Istanbul.

The cargo consisted of 108 rolls of clear plastic cling wrap in two dozen boxes. Officers discovered almost 40 kilograms of cocaine stashed inside 51 of the rolls, according to a Brazilian court document.

Uç was charged with trafficking offenses, and faced a possible 15-year sentence, along with another alleged Turkish associate of Chamas. They were held in prison in Ciudad del Este, a city in the Tri-Border Area, while awaiting trial.

After complaints about being in pain, the two men were taken to a medical center in the nearby city of Misiones. A doctor then sent them for further treatment to a facility in Encarnación, a city two hours east on the border with Brazil.

Paraguay’s government said in a statement at the time that the Turks arrived in Encarnación on the afternoon of Thursday December 22, 2017, and they escaped the following evening.

That was the last authorities knew of Uç’s whereabouts –– until he was discovered recently in a Brazilian prison.

Brazilian police had arrested him during a June, 2023, raid on a bar in Baixada Santista, a coastal town near the Port of Santos, which is the largest in South America. The bar was a front for drug production, according to court records that show that Uç was caught with equipment for extracting hashish from marijuana.

Uç was carrying his older brother’s ID, and police processed him under that name. He confessed to making a particularly potent form of hashish called “Moroccan Dry” for the First Command of the Capital, Brazil’s largest criminal organization, and was sentenced to six years in prison.

Uç's Brazilian lawyer, Adriell Luciano de Souza Santos, did not respond to a request for comment.

Brazilian Federal Police told OCCRP that they had informed Paraguayan authorities that they have Uç in custody.

"Once the extradition request is received by the Brazilian authorities, it will be processed and judged by the Supreme Court," a Federal Police spokesperson said.