This story was first published in portuguese on UOL Notícias, a partner of the Mining Observatory
Information leaks in inspection operations by different public agencies against “garimpos” – illegal mining – have already totaled at least five cases during the government of Jair Bolsonaro.
Officials heard by UOL and The Mining Observatory highlight the consequent risks: hindering inspection, canceling intelligence operations and favoring criminals who, upon discovering themselves as being investigated, manage to escape without punishment.
At the Ministry of the Environment and at Ibama (Brazilian Institute for the Environment and Renewable Natural Resources), the cases took place during the administration of Ricardo Salles and Eduardo Bim, who were respectively heads of the two bodies. In some episodes, the leak of information about inspection operations came from the authorities themselves.
Shortly before leaving office, Salles transferred his office to Pará and published in the “Official Gazette” actions to combat illegal deforestation in conjunction with the National Force.
IBAMA employees who were in the field were surprised by the leak and had to modify the targets previously defined, which wasted resources and impaired inspection.
“Without the surprise factor, we couldn’t find people at the deforestation site. We may even momentarily interrupt irregular activity, but it is not possible to punish and hold anyone accountable”, says Wallace Lopes, environmental agent at IBAMA and director of the National Association of Environmental Specialist Career Servers.
The MapBiomas project identified 9,605 deforestation alerts between January 2019 and March 2021 in five cities in Pará, where Salles had moved. They were endorsed with high-resolution satellite images. About 95% of this deforestation is illegal, but less than 2% was fined by responsible agencies.
“It becomes an inglorious fight. The inspection leaves, the machinery returns. Civil servants know what needs to be done and want to work. But this boycott gets in the way, as criminals are getting inside information first”, says Wallace Lopes.
Operations on indigenous lands
Miners also learned beforehand that an operation would take place in August 2020, in Jacareacanga, Pará. The operation in the Munduruku Indigenous Land was hampered.
Salles visited the area, and an FAB (Brazilian Air Force) plane transported miners to meetings in Brasília on August 6, which led to an investigation by the Prosecutor’s Office (MPF) about 20 days later.
Asked to inform the result of this inquiry, almost a year after the fact, the MPF said only that the investigation “is ongoing, under confidentiality”.
Salles and Bim are being investigated for international timber trafficking, which led to Salles’ resignation. Bim was also removed.
Similar episodes have been repeated. In May, a Federal Police document was leaked to land grabbers working in protected areas in Pará. The joint operation with Ibama and the National Force was affected.
In June, also in Pará, houses of indigenous leaders were burned, miners attacked police officers and the Ministry of Defense canceled the planned support for the PF’s operation.
During another action to combat garimpo, which is underway in the TI Yanomami, in Roraima, the PF accuses the Army of boycotting the operation.
“It is very serious that this is recurrent. In a situation of structural and personnel deficiency, actions with intelligence and secrecy are essential for our success. If the ongoing operations are still frustrated by this type of leakage, we will reduce our result to zero. Bad for everyone,” says Wallace Lopes, from IBAMA.
The Ministry of the Environment, IBAMA and the Federal Police did not answer a request for comment.
The Ministry of Defense said that “there was no cancellation of support” for the operation in TI Munduruku, but that it was “awaiting the release of extraordinary budgetary resources”.
According to the Defense, since 2020 several actions of the Armed Forces have been carried out in conjunction with the Federal Police in TI Yanomami. This would have resulted in “the deactivation of 19 illegal mines and ten clandestine airstrips”.
Fear of leaks
In the Special Mobile Inspection Group (GEFM), linked to the Ministry of Economy, fears involve increased bureaucracy, lowering the priority of inspections and leaks.
Magno Riga, GEFM coordinator with ten years of experience in operations, says that auditors live with the concrete risk that operations will leak. “Information about an operation today goes through more hands of people who are not part of the labor inspection than in the past”, says Riga.
Mobile Group carries out labor inspection operations throughout Brazil and identifies cases of contemporary slave labor. In addition to the auditors, the operations have partner agencies, such as the Federal Police, Ibama, the Public Ministry of Labor and others.
But the entire definition of the operation, such as daily rates and logistics, goes through Brasília. This has favored direct and indirect interference. Furthermore, questions have become common, says Riga.
“If I send a plan saying that I need ten police officers, for example, the administration always asks if it’s not a lot, if it can’t be half of it”, says Magno Riga, coordinator of the Special Mobile Inspection Group
The concern with information leakage also exists in the Federal Police.
“Secrecy is critical in an operation. We take care that information is only shared with the right people at the right time”, Warlei Dias, PF chief in Brasília and Head of the Forced Labor Repression Nucleus.
The Ministry of Economy stated that “the actions are planned and carried out exclusively by members of the Federal Labor Inspection System, with a guarantee of secrecy, without any record of information leakage. There is no information that identifies the actions by any other area of the Ministry and, if this occurs, it will be investigated. The number of police officers involved in the operations is defined by the supporting police forces themselves, whether the Federal Police or the Federal Highway Police.”
In 2020, there were 266 inspections throughout Brazil, with the rescue of 942 workers in slave-labor conditions.
Police chiefs under investigation
In the past week, the Federal Police launched Operation Mapinguari, in Pará, which targets federal chief of police Everaldo Eguchi, accused of leaking information to a criminal network that illegally exploits manganese.
Supported by Bolsonaro, Eguchi ran for the second round for mayor of Pará capital, Belém, in 2020 b and was defeated by a tiny margin. A money bag was seized, filled with R$50 and R$100 bills. The amount itself was not disclosed.
In December 2020, another federal police chief was arrested in Santarém, also in Pará, accused of receiving R$150,000 in bribes from miners to shield them from police actions.
Just this week, the executive secretary of Intelligence of the Amazonas government, Civil Police delegate Samir Freire, was arrested and accused of using the structure of the folder to steal gold extracted from clandestine mines.