Brazil moves top prison gang leader to high-security federal facility

FILE PHOTO: An improvised wall of metal shipping containers to separate two factions of drug gangs is pictured during an uprising at Alcacuz prison in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte state, Brazil, January 23, 2017. REUTERS/Nacho Doce/File Photo

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Marcos Willians Camacho, the main leader of Brazil’s powerful prison gang First Capital Command, was transferred on Wednesday to a high-security federal penitentiary from a Sao Paulo state prison, Sao Paulo Governor João Doria told reporters.

Twenty-one other members of the Sao Paulo-based gang, known locally as PCC, were transferred to federal facilities from Sao Paulo state in an operation by federal and state security forces, he said.

Doria told journalists the transfer of Camacho, known in Brazil by the nickname Marcola, had been in the works for around 50 days. The governor also noted the administration has prepared for potential reprisals related to the decision.

“Actions have been taken by state and federal security forces to prevent any reaction,” Doria said. “The state, here, will not be held hostage by criminals.”

Last month, a plan by the new Ceará state government to send prisoners to whatever jails have space to take them, ending a longstanding practice of separating them according to gang affiliation, triggered violence in the capital Fortaleza and other cities.

Authorities said at that time the violence was a reprisal ordered by gang leaders from inside the penitentiaries.

The operation marks a major step by the new Brazilian government of right-wing Jair Bolsonaro, who was elected last year promising, among other things, to fight rising crime and the prison gangs. Doria is a close ally of the former Army captain turned president.

Bolsonaro, who was discharged from hospital on Wednesday after recovering from his third surgery since he was stabbed last year during campaign, signed on Wednesday a decree that authorizes the use of federal forces in prisons to deal with any potential riots.

Marcola was sentenced to more than 200 years in jail for several crimes, including drug trafficking and murder. He used to lead PCC actions from the jail.

Reporting by Eduardo Simoes; writing by Marcelo Teixeira and Ana Mano; editing by Grant McCool and Susan Thomas