Four years ago, the Federal Police launched an operation to bust a scheme that used a gas station as a front for money laundering. The marshals narrowed their investigation down to Alberto Yousseff, a well-known money launderer with previous convictions and a close relationship with major political parties.
At the time, it sounded like yet another small bust – that is, until it was discovered that Yousseff had paid for a Land Rover for an executive at Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil and gas company. That was the initial thread that led prosecutors to a vast corruption scheme involving dozens of high-profile politicians and the richest businessmen in the land.
Over 140 convictions have been announced – targets include former President Lula – and one-third of Congress has been placed under investigation. For the first time in history, Brazilians saw billionaires in handcuffs.
Of course, that was in great part due to the early collaboration of Alberto Yousseff. The money launderer sought to cut down his years in jail by pointing the finger at the powerful men who benefited from his services. And this explains why the latest Operation Car Wash phase, announced yesterday, is so significant.
Federal marshals carried out arrest orders against 53 people who ran money-laundering schemes. They are known as doleiros – black market money dealers – and are suspected of operating over USD 1.6 billion in dirty money across 52 countries, siphoned away from Brazil’s public administration.
One of the targets is Dario Messer, a man on Interpol’s red notice list who is also known as the “doleiro de doleiros” –or the money launderer of money launderers. Since the early 1990s, he has been on the police’s radar – but that hasn’t stopped him from operating his corrupt schemes from Paraguay, where he enjoys a close friendship with the country’s president, Horacio Cartes.
Whenever there’s a scandal…
…Messer’s name is mentioned. Federal prosecutors believe that he has laundered over BRL 1 billion between 1998 and 2003. It was in 2003 that his name first became known to law enforcement. He was one of the doleiros of a corruption scheme that took place within Paraná’s State Bank (Banestado) in that same year. However, the main focus of that scandal was Alberto Yousseff.
During the mensalão scandal, a bribery scheme within Congress that nearly destroyed Lula’s presidency in 2005, Messer was again cited. He is suspected of laundering dozens of millions of dollars through shell companies in Panama. His name even popped up in the Swiss Leaks scandal.
Messer is such a prominent figure in the money laundering business that he has become a sort of broker for other money launderers, vouching for them and guaranteeing many of their operations. He was, if you will, a kind of “central bank for illegal money traders.” That’s why he is believed to have involvement – at least indirectly – in thousands of illegal operations.
Another star of the money-laundering sector is Marco Matalon, also targeted in yesterday’s operation. Matalon is known as the “doleiro of the stars.” He and Messer have enjoyed the friendship of high-profile politicians and even celebrities, like former footballer Ronaldo – a confirmed habitué at Messer’s lavish parties in Rio de Janeiro.
Now, both will find out whether their powerful connections can help them evade the legal system.
A good way of escaping harsher sentences would be to follow in the footsteps of Alberto Yousseff, as he opened up Pandora’s box with his plea bargains in 2014. Matalon and Messer, however, have the power to blow up most of Brazil’s political establishment.
A close friend of Matalon, speaking under the condition of anonymity, said: “If he talks, there will be no stone left unturned.”