More than a dozen law enforcement agents and cattle ranchers arrested over corruption, money laundering and illegal deforestation in the Amazon. The criminal group is also accused of land grabbing and violent acts against local residents
Money seized during Operation Ojuara
On 8 May a law enforcement operation
led by the Federal
Police in the states of Acre, Amazonas and Minas Gerais resulted in the
arrests of 17 civil servants, police officers and cattle ranchers over
corruption, money laundering and “extensive” illegal deforestation in the state
In addition to the arrests,
Operation Ojuara, which started in 2017 and had the participation of the
federal prosecutor’s office and the Army, also led to the seizure of 12
vehicles, 11 tractors, one small aircraft, 10 fire arms, R$800,000 ($200,000) in cash, and 8,700 heads of cattle.
Among those arrested was
Carlos Francisco Augusto Gadelha, a former high level Ibama official in Acre.
The corruption scheme involved
Ibama employees in Acre, military police officers stationed in Boca do Acre,
Amazonas, and large-scale cattle ranchers operating illegally in a southern
area of Amazonas. According to the police, Ibama staff received bribes to
overlook land grabbing and illegal deforestation of public lands carried out by
As part of the scheme, Ibama agents allegedly informed the ranchers of dates and places of upcoming enforcement operations and deliberately failed to seize equipment used to clear forests.
Operation Ojuara also uncovered evidence that military police officers
had been hired by the ranchers to protect ranch areas and equipment, while also
threatening and ejecting local residents from the area. The Federal Police
found evidence of at least one attempted murder against a small farmer who had
opposed land grabbing and deforestation in the area.
The ranchers targeted by the
operation are no strangers to the law. In recent years they have been fined
R$147m ($36m) by Ibama for clearing or degrading around 86,000 hectares (ha) of forests in the Amazon.
On 9 May a court
ordered all those arrested, including Augusto Gadelha, to remain in
prison pending further investigations. The men have been taken to the Francisco
D’Oliveira Conde penitentiary in Rio Branco, Acre. Among those detained are
five Ibama staff, four military police officers, four cattle ranchers, two land
grabbers and two people identified by the police as frontmen for the ranchers.
The arrest of Augusto Gadelha
came two weeks after another high ranking Ibama official was arrested in
Amazonas over corruption connected to illegal
logging in the state. Both men were part of a group of Ibama officials
who wrote a letter to
President Jair Bolsonaro in November 2018, shortly after he won the elections,
complaining that Ibama had been taken over by “leftist” elements driven by
“ideological” beliefs. The signatories asked the then president-elect to grant
them powers to nominate regional officers and curb Ibama’s “centralising”
Southern parts of Amazonas state,
for many years relatively free from deforestation, have seen significant
increases in forest
loss in recent years, mostly driven by land grabbers, legal
and illegal cattle ranchers, loggers and miners moving into the
area. In the 2016-2017 period, southern Amazonas lost 100,000ha of forests, nearly twice as much as in 2014-2015. The municipalities
of Lábrea and Apuí have been among the most affected.
Deforesters are motivated by
promises from the federal government to pave the BR-319 motorway, which would
make land speculation, ranching, logging and mining in the area more
President Bolsonaro has pledged to ‘develop’ the Amazon by investing in infrastructure projects in the region that include roads, railways and hydroelectric dams. Officials in Bolsonaro’s administration have called the Amazon an unproductive, “desert-like” region that needs to be integrated into the national economy.