Sao Paulo police trying to jail some protesters before World Cup

Fri May 30, 2014 10:03am EDT
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By Brian Winter

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Police in Brazil's biggest city are seeking to arrest and jail a hard core of violent street protesters before the World Cup starts in two weeks, using wiretaps and other surveillance in an effort to prevent clashes from spoiling the tournament.

Fernando Grella, the head security official for Sao Paulo state, told Reuters that police are assembling possible criminal cases against a small number of protest leaders, perhaps a few dozen, who he said are conspiring to "commit violent acts, break things, vandalize and attack people."

The intelligence work is not yet complete so it's unclear whether prosecutors will agree to bring charges that would result in so-called "preventive arrests," Grella said.

The likelihood of violent protests is one of the biggest concerns for Brazil's government and world soccer body FIFA as the World Cup gets ready to kick off in Sao Paulo on June 12.

Brazilians angry over public money being spent to host the tournament, among other grievances, have been staging periodic demonstrations for a year now. While most protesters have been peaceful members of the middle class, several marches have resulted in clashes with police and vandalism that officials blame on a small number of students and other youths.

The "intense intelligence operation" described by Grella is one of the most extensive yet disclosed by Brazilian security forces. While federal agencies are also gathering information on protesters, it's unclear if police in the other 11 cities that will host games are also seeking preventive arrests.

Grella said police have used video surveillance and internal records to identify the most violent protesters and, in some cases, have tapped their phones and monitored their social media use and e-mail traffic.

The objective, he said, is to identify cases of premeditated, organized violence that would constitute "criminal association" - a charge akin to conspiracy that is more typically used against organized crime groups here.   Continued...

Fernando Grella, the head security official for Sao Paulo state, gestures as he speaks to Reuters in Sao Paulo May 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker