Cigarette smuggler arrested, released in Paraguay

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In downtown Ciudad del Este, Paraguay, cigarette master cases pile up along the sidewalk, ready to be picked up by smugglers.

Marina Walker Guevara/ICIJ

Roque Fabiano da Silveira, a Brazilian cigarette smuggler who lives in Paraguay and was once arrested for smuggling in the United States, was again arrested last week by Paraguayan federal police, according to a report in the newspaper ABC Color.

Silveira was featured in a 2009 ICIJ report, “Smuggling Made Easy,” published as part of the Tobacco Underground series on the global trade in illicit cigarettes.

The new charges say Silveira and a Chilean companion, Rodrigo Andrés Castro Vargas, carried concealed guns without a license to do so in Paraguay. The guns were a Smith & Wesson .45 mm, with three ammunition cartridges and 26 bullets, registered to Silveira, and a Glock .40 mm, with two cartridges and 30 bullets, registered to a man named Alfonso Angel Dario. Silveira was released on the same day from the main jail in Salto de Guairá city, on the border with Brazil.

Silveira is described in the ABC Color article as “a cattle rancher, owner of great land extensions in the Canindeyú area and other regions of the country” who “has national and international fame due to his links to production and smuggling of cigarettes in great scale." News accounts also have described Silveira as well-connected in Paraguayan political and business circles. He was part of a group of alleged smugglers charged with the 2006 murder of a border agent who had given up working for them.

After his arrest in the United States, he was bailed out of prison in 2005 with a slap on the wrist and never returned. In Brazil he is wanted by federal police, after a 2006 crackdown on cigarette smugglers.

Silveira's former associate and cigarette wholesaler Stormmy Paul told ICIJ in 2009 that he paid Silveira's company, Tabacalera Central, $2 per carton of cigarettes, and another $2 to a Maryland middleman who'd take care of customs and keep another $2 per carton as profit.

In spring 2005, Paul and Silveira were arrested before they could meet in Las Vegas, Nevada. They were indicted on a total of 50 counts of conspiracy, smuggling, trafficking, and money laundering.

Silveira pledged to cooperate with authorities and was handed a probationary sentence. He paid a fine and was released.

Earlier this month, the Brazilian Supreme Court denied his request to declare illegal the wiretaps kept by the police where he appears to be discussing smuggling operations.

Marcelo Soares is a Sao Paolo-based investigative journalist and a member of ICIJ