This story was originally published in Portuguese by Repórter Brasil in partnership with Rainforest Investigations Network Fellow Hyury Potter. To read the original story in full, click here. Our website is available in English, Spanish, bahasa Indonesia, French, and Portuguese.
The President of the Brazilian National Gold Association (Anoro), Dirceu Frederico Sobrinho, who also owns prominent mining companies, was arrested in the second week of September by Federal Police. The arrest was part of Operation Aerogold, an investigation into illegal mining by dredging barges in the rivers of the Amazon.
Sobrinho is an old acquaintance of the federal prosecutors and police in the states of Pará and Roraima. The owner of various gold mines, mining companies, and gold trading facilities, he has been investigated for buying the precious metal from illegal mines in the Yanomami, Munduruku, and Kayapó Indigenous Lands. But another scheme led to Sobrinho’s arrest in São Paulo last Sunday.
It is an organization that operates rafts and gold dredges in Amazon rivers, according to Federal Police. During Operation Aerogold, they made temporary and preventive arrests of 19 people besides Sobrinho and carried out 43 search and seizure warrants in Rondônia, Amazonas, Acre, Pará, Mato Grosso, and São Paulo. The investigation is confidential, but Repórter Brasil was able to access parts of the inquiry.
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The King of Gold
To get an idea of Sobrinho's economic power: In the last two years (2021 and 2020), his company FD'Gold had the third-largest tax of Financial Compensation for Mineral Exploration (Cfem) for gold exploration in Brazil. The only two companies that had to pay a higher Cfem tax were the multinationals Kinross and AngloGold Ashanti. In other words, Sobrinho’s company was the most prominent Brazilian buyer of gold in these two years.
Dirceu Sobrinho is more than a businessman under investigation. He is the president of the National Gold Association (Anoro), a regular in the offices of ministers in Brasilia, and an outspoken supporter of gold mining on Indigenous lands. He has also tried a career in politics: He ran as a candidate for first deputy to former Senator Flexa Ribeiro (PSDB-Pará) in 2018, when he declared a fortune of R$20.3 million (roughly 5 million USD).
"Considering all the economic power, it is understood that keeping Dirceu free while evidence is being collected can harm the progress of the investigations; after all, there may be the attempt to conceal evidence and threaten witnesses," argued the chief investigator Ana Paula Meirelles de Oliveira in the justification for the arrest request.
In April, Sobrinho gave a lengthy interview to Jovem Pan, a conservative radio outlet and YouTube channel. Showing glittering gold chains and bracelets, the businessman said that the miners were pushed into illegality by the federal government and defended the approval of a law to allow mining on Indigenous land.
Repórter Brasil contacted the law firm Nogués Moyano, which represents Sobrinho, but the businessman's lawyers did not respond to emailed questions or calls to their office.