Police in Brazil crack down on $1.2 billion illegal gold operations

Image: Policia Federal do Brasil

The Brazilian Federal Police carried out on Wednesday an operation against illegal gold mining and trade in the Yanomami Indigenous Territory in the states of Amazonas and Roraima.

Police investigations revealed the ore extracted from the territory and in Venezuela was sold illegaly abroad, generating almost R$6 billion ($1.2 billion).

The scheme involved the smuggling of Venezuelan gold, which would enter Brazil clandestinely as payment for the export of food through markets in Roraima and Amazonas.

Hired transport companies would hide the smuggled gold inside trucks, which would enter Roraima without the necessary procedures and payment of taxes.

Subsequently, the ore would be purchased by other members of the scheme and sent to illegal mining companies, responsible for making payments to supermarkets and food distributors.

Four arrest warrants and another 48 search and seizure warrants were issued in at least 8 Brazilian states.

Werner Rydl, an Austrian millionaire and naturalized Brazilian, was the target of a search and seizure, the source said, adding that authorities seized gold bars kept by Rydl, worth more than 5.7 billion reais ($1.18 billion).

Among those arrested is businessman Brubeyk do Nascimento, who was detained in a luxury condominium in Manaus.

He was arrested previously in 2020 with two Americans while attempting to ship 35 kg of gold to the United States illegally.

Two New Yorkers and business partners, Frank Giannuzzi and Steven Bellino, as well as Nascimento, were trying to board a flight to New York with the gold in a suitcase.

The US citizens are partners in a New York City-based firm, Doromet Inc, which was going to trade the metal, a source told Reuters. The three men claimed that the gold was the result of melted jewelry, and presented false documents to prove its origin, the source said.

However, the police’s analysis of the material showed that the true origin of the gold was illegal mining in the Tapajos region of Para, northern Brazil.

Between 2015 and 2020, Brazil traded 229 tonnes of gold with evidence of illegality, equivalent to almost half of the gold produced and exported by the country, according to the NGO Instituto Escolhas.

(With files from Reuters)