Central African Republic: Diamond trafficking ring unleashes a political storm in Portugal | International

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An angry crony and a scrupulous officer dynamited the diamond, gold and drug trafficking network woven by the Portuguese military integrated into the UN humanitarian mission in the Central African Republic. The plot came to light this week, when the arrest of 11 people, civilians and military, within Operation Miríade was announced, which perplexed the main Portuguese authorities, who found out from the press.

The fact that the Minister of Defense, João Gomes Cravinho, had not informed the Prime Minister, António Costa, or the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, who is the supreme commander of the Armed Forces, has unleashed another political storm in Portugal, where the political storms are beginning to stop being strange. The opposition, which is already revving its engines for the early elections on January 30, has requested the appearance of Gomes Cravinho, whose department did inform the UN of the open investigation.

After taking their statements, Judge Carlos Alexandre ordered preventive detention for the alleged leader of the network, Paulo Nazaré, 25, a former sergeant who had left the Army, and the Brazilian Wilker Rodrigues de Almeida. The remaining detainees were released with the obligation of periodic appearances before the authorities. These include four bank employees (Caixa de Crédito Agrícola and Millenium BCP), a lawyer, three agents of the Portuguese security forces and an employee of a private security company. Those implicated in the network included a former captain who had been decorated for his participation in humanitarian missions.

Nazaré was detained while driving to Lisbon airport to fly to South Africa, according to published the Newspaper. The house he shared with his mother and her partner was one of the hundreds of homes registered by the judicial police. Nazaré spent a few months on the mission in the Central African Republic, between October 2017 and March 2018, when he abandoned his military career. As of that date, no jobs are known to him.

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In the Central African Republic they bought diamonds and gold, which were then transported to Portugal on military planes that were not subject to inspection. From there they left by land for sale in Belgian cities such as Brussels and Antwerp. A safe and simpler way of operating than the financial coverage they set up to try to launder money, which included everything from the purchase of cryptocurrencies to the complicity of current account holders where transfers were made in exchange for a commission. Police estimate there may be more than 60 front men. The members closest to Paulo Nazaré were an agent of the Public Security Police (PSP), who had just finished his training period and had been a soldier, and a member of the Republican National Guard (GNR), who was still in period of training and that he had been Nazaré’s companion in the Army. In one of the taped wiretaps, he contacted another active military to request authorization to have his account to make transfers, according to the newspaper Public.

For money laundering, the network used some 40 companies, including nightclubs, real estate, restaurants and some shell companies created just to facilitate a scenario of operations. The plot not only trafficked in illicit products, but also offered its services for other types of illegal businesses such as computer fraud or counterfeiting currency.

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The police investigation began after two complaints filed in December 2019 with the 6th Outstanding National Force in the Central African Republic, which has displaced some 180 Portuguese soldiers, mostly paratroopers, within the device deployed by the UN. A local interpreter who had not received the commission promised by the network to cover the sale of eight diamonds – 20% of the profits – was the first to alert about the clandestine business of some soldiers.

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This information was followed shortly after by that of a major who had been contacted by the network to implicate him in the gemstone trafficking. The officer received eight diamonds to be deposited on a plane that provided logistical support to the mission and which was scheduled to fly to Portugal. However, the major, who was already aware of the interpreter’s complaint, decided to hand over the merchandise to his commander, who reported the case to the General Staff of the Portuguese Armed Forces. These eight diamonds, examined on arrival in Lisbon by experts, lacked the purity necessary to become pieces of jewelery of great value. According to the newspaper Public, they hardly served for an industrial use and its market value was 290 euros.

The matter reached the Defense Minister, João Gomes Cravinho, who informed the UN department that coordinates peacekeeping missions. However, he decided not to refer the matter to other Portuguese institutions after consulting with the legal teams of his ministry. This controversy is in addition to the one that the Ministry of Defense and the Presidency of the Republic have recently maintained, regarding the proposal to replace the Chief of the Navy General Staff, Admiral Mendes Calado, by Vice Admiral Gouveia e Melo, who has led the successful covid vaccination operation in Portugal.

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