RIO DE JANEIRO -- Brazilian police arrested more than 60 people yesterday in a massive operation to crack down on money laundering, targeting currency changers who illegally transfer money abroad.
Money traders -- or "doleiros" -- are common in Brazil, where many prefer to keep their savings in a currency that's more stable than the Brazilian real. While it is legal to change currency into dollars, some traders ship the money abroad in suitcases without properly declaring it or paying taxes.
Some 800 federal agents were assigned in eight Brazilian states to arrest 120 people.
"The doleiros operated in an irregular or illegal manner with companies that called themselves tourism or money changers, but acted as offshore banks," Wagner Castilho, a spokesman for the federal police in Sao Paulo, told reporters there. He said many of the operations involved illegal wire transfers and depositing payment for Brazilian exports directly into offshore accounts.
Federal police said most of the money involved was illegal in origin, coming from corruption, embezzled public funds, contraband, fraud, and likely from drug and arms trafficking.
Federal police dubbed the operation "Beacon Hill," after the Beacon Hill Service Corp., whose New York offices were raided last year. The company was convicted of operating as an unauthorized money transmitter, and Brazilian police used information from the case to trace operators in Brazil.
Those arrested are being charged with crimes that carry penalties of up to 12 years in prison. In Brasilia, police arrested Antonio de Oliveira Claramunt, who is accused of sending $500 million abroad between 1996 and 2002.