Brazil’s criminals have started storing their illicit profits in costly status symbols. Police have even found such expensive items in prisons.

Jewelry and other items confiscated from a militia member in Rio de Janeiro (Photo: C.H. Gardiner)

Jewelry and other items confiscated from a militia member in Rio de Janeiro (Photo: C.H. Gardiner)

Throughout Brazil, authorities are seizing significant quantities of gold and diamonds in the forms of ostentatious jewelry worn by high ranking narco-traffickers and criminals.

According to police, the kingpins wear the jewelry as a form of identification within the criminal community. It also acts as a way of storing their illicit profits, which can't be deposited in a bank for obvious reasons.

A raid last march in Rio de Janeiro's infamous Bangu prison – home to some of the highest ranking members of the criminal factions that dominate large swaths of Rio's territory – resulted in police apprehending large quantities of bulky gold rings and designer watches. Items prohibited within the institution.

Authorities said that some of the 36 rings were worth up to R$100,000 ($25,000.) Two of the 169 watches, a Rolex and a Hublot, were valued at R$100,000 and R$75,000 ($18,750) respectively. Police said that the items were authentic.

Investigators in Ceará said that high ranking members of the Guardiões do Estado (Guardians of the State) narcotics organization used six rings to identify the leadership of the organization.

GDE is one of the most violent criminal organizations and is responsible for the significant increase in homicides in Ceará after it initiated a narcotics war with rival factions.

Authorities seized two of the bulky gold rings following the arrest of a pair of high ranking GDE members. After conducting a forensic analysis of the prisoner's phones, authorities were able to determine that the custom made rings served as a form of differentiating the leadership. Each ring bears the name of one of the leaders and cost about R$42,000 ($10,000) to manufacture.

Jewelry belonging to a trafficker named Gilberto Coelho de Olivera, also known as “Hulk.”

Jewelry belonging to a trafficker named Gilberto Coelho de Olivera, also known as “Hulk.”

Locals of areas of Rio de Janeiro dominated by mafia-like militias said that the gangsters have also started to wear expensive watches, bracelets, and jewelry as a way of demonstrating their power and wealth. Raids by police against militias often turn up such costly items.

Drug traffickers that dominated Rio's Governor's Island for almost two decades would often walk the streets with custom made jewelry. Gilberto Coelho de Oliveira, known as Hulk, had several necklaces and chains made out of gold and precious stones in the shape of the comic book character.

To prevent would be grave robbers the family of a drug trafficker shot and killed earlier in the year made it a clear to the public that the body would be buried without his iconic gold teeth.

These ostentatious demonstrations of wealth show not just how lucrative the drug business is in Brazil but how public it is. Criminals make no effort to try to hide their identity but instead go to impressive, and expensive, lengths to demonstrate just how good business is.