€12 million in cash ‘discovered’ in parked van in Lisbon as police close in on massive drug trafficking ring

€12 million in cash was ‘discovered’ this week in a van parked in a Lisbon garage.

The haul – the largest ever seized by Portuguese police in one go – was not found by chance: it followed months of painstaking transnational investigation involving drug squads in Brazil, Spain, Belgium and Holland.

Over 45 arrests have been made, luxury properties seized but the ‘cherry-on-the-cake’, a former policeman, has so far evaded capture.

This is a story that reads like a film script: drug-trafficking mastermind, former Brazil military police major Sérgio Carvalho, has been dodging authorities for years.

Using the alias of Paul Wouter, purportedly a national of Surinam, he is sought by Spanish authorities to serve a 13-year term for trafficking linked to a large haul of cocaine seized off the Galician coast in 2017.

Say reports in the Spanish press, Wouter (or Carvalho) has been linked to criminal activity since 1997 – long before he left the Brazilian military police.

But his wealth, and ability to hire excellent lawyers, have been a marvelous boon to his schemes which recently involved the ‘revelation’ that he had died of Covid-19 in Spain, and been cremated.

Spain’s ‘Diario da Ponta Vedra’ however says no-one swallowed that story – and there has been no official confirmation of his death – thus the hunt remains on for Wouter/ Carvalho, now 62, who until relatively recently had been ‘living like a king’ in Marbella.

PJ police taking part in the manhunt that is systematically shutting down Wouter’s network had hoped that they might find him on national soil.

He is known to have been a frequent visitor to Portugal and apparently is “the owner of a business in Avenida da República” in Lisbon (according to Brazilian journalist Josmar Jozino).

However, ‘the major’ (as he is often referred to) eluded the 15 swoops made in Portugal” albeit €12 million the poorer.

PJ police chief Luís Neves described the cash haul as ‘just a small part of the money made from trafficking’ over the last few years.

Wouter’s network is believed to have smuggled over 45 tons of cocaine into Europe from South America since 2017, some of which has been seized, some of which hasn’t.

Two ‘luxury apartments’ in Lisbon worth around €2.5 million have also been taken out of his ‘clutches’ (wherever he is), along with “various bank accounts and documentation, which will allow police to advance even further”, Neves has told CM.

Luís Neves stressed there was no ‘luck’ involved in this extraordinary police ‘coup’ which played out last Monday: It was a combination of ‘detectives’ perseverance and ‘smell’ (in other words, good old fashioned police work).

Trafficking causes “elevated costs to states – for deaths caused and damages to the economy and health systems”, said Neves, alluding to robberies and murders associated to these kind of smuggling operations, as well to the generalised corruption that facilitates it.

The PJ’s boss referred to “public sector workers who allow drugs through ports and airports” said CM, stressing “there will have been Portuguese in the major’s network, but for now there have been no arrests in Portugal”.

Arrests nonetheless have been made in Brazil (38), Belgium (4), Spain (1) and Dubai (2) where ‘the major’ had another business (PWT General Trading).

Beyond the apartments in Lisbon, no less than 163 properties have been seized in Brazil (amounting to €21 million), two in Spain (€4 million) as well as 37 planes, 70 cars and various other stashes of cash in Brazil and Belgium.

Says Rádio Renascença, the police forces involved were the Federal Police of Brazil, the Federal Judicial Police of Belgium (Federale Gerechtelijke Politie, Police Judiciaire Fédérale), the National Body of Police of Spain, the National Police of Holland (Politie), the Police of Romania (Politia Română) and the Police of Dubai.

Said the PJ in a statement on its website: “The operation demonstrates clearly that through strong cooperation between authorities in various countries it is possible to efficiently combat these kind of criminal structures and their illicit activities”.

It’s now ‘just a question’ of locating the ‘cherry-on-the-cake’ and definitively closing down this tentacular operation.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com