Federal Police Chief Mauro Sposito

Head of the task force set up to prevent illegal mining on the Roosevelt

Mauro Sposito
Mauro Sposito

“Two or three companies dominate the diamond trade worldwide. It’s not that these companies are the main participants in the illegal trade, but there is no doubt that they foment the illegal trade.”
– Federal Police Chief Mauro Sposito

Frontline/World Reporter Mariana van Zeller: Explain what “Operation Roosevelt” was set up to do.

Mauro Sposito: Operation Roosevelt involves a series of actions. The first was setting up control posts around the reserve and a mobile post that patrols daily all the access roads to the reserve; the second, to destroy landing strips that aren’t used by the FUNAI or aren’t used by the indigenous community and identifying all the roads that lead to the reserve, leaving open only those that serve the community -- the rest were being used by buyers. Another action was to remove all non-indigenous people from inside the reserve and remove all mining equipment. There are also a series of social actions to benefit the indigenous community so that they don’t have to be involved in the illegal diamond trade.

What can you tell me about how the diamonds leave the reserve and enter the market?

A diamond leaves the mine and the mining area through the Indians or the miners, who then take it to the middlemen, who then take it to the buyers, and those buyers pass it on to the financiers. There is no doubt that the ones who make the most money out of this are the financiers.

Those financiers are people who have access to diamond mining companies. The diamond trade in the world is practically controlled by a cartel. Two or three companies dominate the diamond trade worldwide. So there is no doubt that all of this converges to those companies. It’s not that these companies are the main participants in the illegal trade, but there is no doubt that they foment the illegal trade.

So you believe that when the diamonds leave this area, they end up getting to those companies one way or the other?

Yes, or else they wouldn’t reach their commercial value. Or else they would be sold clandestinely all of their lives, and a diamond that is sold clandestinely has no commercial value attached to it. So it is absolutely necessary for them to go through those companies that can certify them.

Are these companies being investigated?

Yes, we have an investigation not only regarding this particular situation on the Roosevelt Reserve, but all around the Brazilian territory. We have several suspects and several companies listed as suspects. These companies are actually all molded after each other. Their interest in these diamonds is public. We can see on Vaaldiam’s [Canadian diamond exploration company] Web site ( that the reference point they give in the world is the Roosevelt Indigenous Reserve.

Do you believe the multinational companies that are mining around the reserve are acting illegally?

I have no doubt about it. There is a cover-up surrounding this reserve with totally illicit goals. We obtained a study that was done by a consulting firm for a mining company called Santa Elina that places the potential production of only two kimberlites at $1 billion a year. [A kimberlite is a type of igneous rock and is the most common host rock for diamonds.] And here in the region it is said -- and I’m not a geologist to confirm this -- that there are 17 kimberlites.

How much are you seizing from illegal activity?

This month we seized almost 5,000 carats of diamonds from the hands of financiers. We try to get the head of the group, the chief of the criminal organization, so that by cutting the head, the feet and legs can’t move. This issue of miners and Indians is a war of the miserable. They are the people who are trying to survive, making some money to survive, while the financiers are profiting from that war. So miners die, Indians die, while the ones benefiting are the people who are negotiating and speculating in the diamond market.

Can you give an example of what sort of money changes hands?

We had a very specific case here, very symbolic. A diamond was sold here for $8,000. Later it was resold to a middleman for $25,000, who then passed it on to a buyer in São Paulo who, when we seized the diamond, was selling it for $250,000. This shows well the profit that is made in this chain.

Back to top