Messer, the prolific money launderer,
managed to move millions of dollars in
Brazil’s emerald industry, which adds
a new scheme to his list of illicit
financial transactions for money
An investigation conducted by
Brazilian prosecutors showed that
between 2011 and 2017 Messer
washed at least $44 million through a
precious stone exporter registered in
Rio de Janeiro.
The money, coming from public resources embezzled by some of the most powerful politicians in Brazil, was deposited by Messer’s accomplices in the bank accounts of emeralds or intermediaries of the sale of emeralds in the name of the exporter OS Ledo these were confessions made by Messer’s collaborators to the police. Subsequently, O S Ledo sold the emeralds to foreign buyers, mostly in India and Hong Kong, and deposited the money in foreign bank accounts connected to Messer’s money laundering operations. This allowed the transactions of millions of dollars to appear as part of the firm’s routine operations.
However, the police investigation of O S Ledo showed that the same emeralds were illegally extracted in the state of Bahia, northeastern Brazil, an area with a history of illegal mining.
Messer was a crucial player in the money laundering schemes that were unveiled during Operation Lava Jato (Express Autowash), an investigation into what was going on with the Brazilian mega-builder Odebrecht for the payment of millions of dollars in bribes to political leaders throughout Latin America. In particular, Messer is accused of being the mastermind of a mega-operation that carried out transactions for $1.6 billion through more than 3,000 bank accounts in 52 countries between 2011 and 2017.
In August 2020, Messer was sentenced to more than 18 years in prison by a court in Rio de Janeiro and agreed to return about 1 billion reais (US$184 million) in embezzled money.
Although the illegal emerald scheme may have legitimized about $44 million, that sum is derisory compared to the total operations made by Messer. Even so, it stands as yet another testimony to the breadth and inventiveness of one of the largest money laundering schemes in Latin America, which moved money through a seemingly endless series of industries, banks and tax havens.
Scandals related to the illegal mining of emeralds have been more common in Colombia, such as the verdict of guilt on the “zar of the emeralds” of that country for drug trafficking and homicide dictated by the United States in 2019.
Although Brazil faces an epidemic of illegal mining, the illegal extraction and sale of emeralds, rubies and amethysts have received little attention from the security forces.
That could be what attracted Messer to that scheme, since he could find willing partners who were already involved in a lucrative criminal economy that included international transactions, while remaining incognito.
Other money laundering operations devised by Messer included the manipulation of US dollar purchase and sale operations in Paraguay, using the Brazilian banking system to remove up to 1 billion reais from the country for politicians of the Workers’ Party (Partido dos Trabalhadores, PT), and his possession of an offshore account in Panama, linked to the revelations of SwissLeaks.