- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 20, 2002

SAO PAULO, Brazil One of Brazil's most notorious drug lords bought a shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missile from an arms dealer by telephone while serving time in a Rio maximum-security prison, Brazilian officials said.

A federal police official said Tuesday that police took custody of the missile, which was found in the prison director's office, and have dismantled it.

Federal authorities believe the director was involved in negotiations for the sale of the weapon, the official told UPI.

In a separate statement faxed to UPI on Tuesday, the Public Ministry of Rio de Janeiro state said it learned of convicted drug lord Fernandinho Beira-Mar's plot to purchase the missile through extensive phone taps.

According to more than 20 hours of recorded conversation, Beira-Mar on several occasions had contacted an arms dealer from inside the Bangu One prison in Rio de Janeiro state and negotiated the purchase of an anti-aircraft missile that was manufactured in Argentina.

"As absurd as it might seem, it was verified that from within the prison, prisoners can acquire military arms used by international forces like Stinger missiles," said the statement sent to UPI.

The statement went on to list other types of weapons such as grenades, rifles and ammunition that prisoners can acquire "to equip their subordinates [on the outside] to maintain control" of their criminal empires.

Other law-enforcement officials say that drug lords like Beira-Mar who are serving lengthy sentences in what are termed "maximum security prisons" are controlling their drug empires with relative ease via telephone.

Earlier this year, prison authorities staged raids in several prisons in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo states and confiscated numerous cell phones used by prisoners to contact criminal associates outside.

Initial reports by Brazilian media said Beira-Mar had negotiated the purchase of the missile with an arms dealer who supplied similar missiles to al Qaeda, the Islamic terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden.

But the federal police official denied the deal was in any way connected to al Qaeda.

"Those reports are all one big lie," the official said.

Brazilian media have reported in the past that arms smugglers linked to Islamic terrorists are operating in the country.

Several reports last year said al Qaeda operatives traffic arms in what is termed South America's triborder region an area where the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay converge and that is host to a large Arab population.

The U.S. State Department, however, maintains the reports "had been disproved or remained uncorroborated by intelligence and law-enforcement officials," according to the department's 2001 report on global terrorism.

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