AUSTRALIAN journalist Kathryn Bonella plunged into the world of young adrenaline junkie drug runners and how greed, firing squads and a dedicated detective ended their decadent world.
WE had a problem. I was in Bali and he was in a maximum security European jail. He was a Prada-loving, cocaine-sniffing, sexy Brazilian surfer who sent Cocaine Cassie-style mules from South America to Europe or Bali like relay runners out of the blocks almost every week.
Most made it through, reaping him a fortune which fed his sensual appetites. But one of his “horses”, smart mules, was unmasked on his way to Bali, sentenced to death and executed alongside Australians Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran. That had not stopped the young drug lord for a second.
Right now, we needed to figure out how we could talk. It didn’t take long. Smuggling kilos of cocaine, pills and pot was his game, so hiding a phone in a prison was easy.
“I hired an arse. I’m renting an arse every week to hold it for me, ” Jorge Break told me.
Sticking it up his own butt wasn’t palatable, and just like drug running, the riskiest job was delegated to someone else. “I can’t do that, I just can’t. I found a kid to hold it.”
“He even goes to the gym with this thing in his arse.”
I was also grateful to the “arse for hire”. This drug boss was a sophisticated guy, and one of the people I needed to get to know, to be able to paint the world of a loose group of playboy drug lords who enjoyed the most decadent of lives; living in whichever five-star they lay down their Louis Vuitton bags, flying first-class, skiing in Switzerland, surfing in Bali, partying like rock stars with A-list models and world famous sportsmen and spending tens of thousands on splurges on designer clothes and hookers.
These guys — mostly adrenaline junky surfers and paragliders from rich families on a little island in South Brazil — created one of the biggest drug links between South America, Europe and Bali, trafficking blow, grass and ecstasy pills through the world’s international airports.
I knew of these playboys from work on my previous book, Snowing in Bali, which exposed the holiday island’s underbelly. This time I wanted dig deeper, broaden the story geographically, and also include the other side.
Chief Fernando Caieron was the good looking ripped bodied Brazilian cop whose pretty boy face masked a ruthless cunning, with a single ambition to bring down the playboy network.
He began his Operation Playboy. I wanted to talk to the hunter and the hunted. He was keen to play ball.
We spent more than 100 hours talking in Brazil so he could help me piece together the jigsaw of Operation Playboy, detailing his battle with an endemically corrupt legal system, and the chase. He often called it the “cat and the rat”, toying with those he and his crack team busted.
Two of the playboys became his prime targets. I wanted to speak to them. I found them. Both agreed. They hated this cop. He loathed what they did. His ambition was to catch them; theirs to outwit him.
Taking a box seat on both sides was riveting, and often a delicate balancing act — the cops knew I was talking to the playboys and vice-versa.
As the playboys’ trust grew with every trip and a series of rolling interviews, the stories became more graphic and raw.
One guy I contacted didn’t want to talk on the phone but did agree to meet me in Brazil. He was edgy and he took me for a drive around the spectacular surfing mecca island, Florianopolis, giving me a grand tour, including Joaquina beach, one of the best surf spots in Brazil, where most of the playboy bosses had grown up hitting the waves daily.
Little by little he started opening up, trusting me, until one day he suddenly started saying things that gave me goosebumps. It was a confession.
“I feel I have Rodrigo’s blood on my hands … I give to his hands those boards.” He was talking about his friend, the Brazilian, Rodrigo Gularte, who was executed alongside Andrew and Myuran. He’d given Rodrigo the surfboards filled with cocaine at his flat in south Brazil the day before he left, wishing him “good travel, a successful trip”.
He drove me to that flat from where Rodrigo had left with those boards. He said what made it worse was that the surfboard shaper, a friend of his, was owed money by the drug bosses, so had skimped on the carbon fibre to hide the blow and made shoddy boards.
This playboy was living with intense guilt still and he wanted to talk. Sometimes he got very emotional, slapping his hands down in anger or regret on his steering wheel. He knew I was recording every word and never once asked me to stop or to filter out anything.
One of the playboy bosses gave me another incredible revelation about this death penalty run: he described how he and two other bosses and their “horse” were high on cocaine, in their apartment in Amsterdam, when they flippantly decided to send him to Bali. It had been only eight days since their mentor and good friend Marco Archer Cardoso Moreira was sentenced to death there.
Chief Fernando Caieron could not fathom why they would traffic to Bali instead of just going to Europe and calls the bosses who sent Rodrigo ‘murderers’ as well as “psycho, psycho”.
These playboys are madly addicted to danger. They are natural born thrill seekers, adrenaline junkies, many who have surfed since kids in south Brazil, or practised other extreme sports, and who only feel alive when they’re dancing on a precipice.
When they get into the drug game, it turns into their ultimate fix. One described the thrill of getting through an international airport with a bag of cocaine as “better than an orgasm”.
Another “ … like making a score in a stadium full of people calling your name”.
It’s not hard to understand the lure of the cash. Every run is like a lotto win. An investment of $5000 plus travel expenses turns a single kilo of cocaine in Brazil into glamorous nose candy in party destinations in Europe, Bali or Australia and the price goes boom.
Every border it crosses, the price increases; in Bali it can fetch $100,000 and in Australia more than quarter of a million. It affords the drug bosses their lavish lives. These playboys are educated, speak fluent English and have a taste for the high life.
One of them is good friends with Kelly Slater, he even chauffeured him around South Brazil during a professional surfing event one year between drug runs. Another is addicted to shopping, and often jokes he has $25,000 of designer clothes hanging on his body. For these playboys, life is beautiful.
Until it’s not.
Operation Playboy by Kathryn Bonella. Published by Macmillan Australia, RRP $34.99 trade paperback. On Sale December 12, 2017