On February 12, 2020, at about 9 p.m., two masked men shot and killed Lourenço “Léo” Veras, a Brazilian national and the owner and manager of Porã News, a news website covering organized crime, at his home in the Paraguayan city of Pedro Juan Caballero, which borders the Brazilian city of Ponta Porã, according to a report by Brazilian broadcaster G1.
Three men drove to Veras’ home in a white truck, and two raided the journalist’s home while he was having dinner with his wife, son, and father-in-law, while the other remained in the driver’s seat, according to Paraguayan daily ABC Color and a report by the Amambay district police, which CPJ reviewed.
Veras tried to escape, but the attackers shot him in the leg, and proceeded to shoot him 11 times, including once in the head, according to those reports. He was brought to the local Viva Vida private hospital following the attack and died shortly afterwards, according to ABC Color and the police report, which was provided to CPJ via email by the Paraguayan National Police Transparency and Anti-Corruption Department.
Porã News covers organized crime, policing, and drug trafficking-related issues on the Brazil-Paraguay border. According to another ABC Color report, Ignacio Rodríguez, the director of police in Amambay, said the attack may have been retaliation for material published by Porã News.
Carlos Eduardo, an investigator with the Civil Police in Brazil’s Mato Grosso do Sul state, told CPJ in an email that Paraguayan authorities were responsible for investigating Veras’ killing, but said that the civil police were working with their Paraguayan counterparts to look into whether the killers fled to Brazil after the attack. The communications office of the Brazilian Federal Police in Mato Grosso do Sul state told CPJ in an email that they were available to support Paraguayan authorities in the case if requested.
Police found 16 used 9 mm cartridges at the scene, according to the police report.
According to a statement by the National Federation of Journalists in Brazil, an association of journalists’ unions, Veras had previously reported receiving death threats in relation to his work. In an interview with Brazilian broadcaster TV Record that aired on January 28, Veras described receiving numerous threats from drug dealers as a consequence of his reporting.
Veras previously worked for six months as a regional correspondent for ABC Color, and worked occasionally as a correspondent for other media outlets in the Brazilian border state of Mato Grosso do Sul, according to ABC Color.
The newspaper reported that during his time as a correspondent, Veras was granted police protection due to a series of threats he received from members of an organized crime group.
The Brazilian Association of Investigative Journalism (Abraji), a local press freedom group, said in a statement that people close to Veras told the organization that the journalist was concerned about the escape of 75 detainees from a prison in Pedro Juan Caballero in January 2020, many of whom had ties to Brazilian organized crime.
A journalist working in Pedro Juan Caballero, who spoke to CPJ on the condition of anonymity, citing security concerns, said they were similarly afraid, and believed some of the escapees might try to target journalists they had previously threatened.
On February 22, the Paraguayan Department Against Organized Crime arrested 10 people suspected of involvement in the killing, according to news reports. Abraji reported that police seized four Glock 9 mm pistols in the arrests, and found a white Jeep Renegade.
On February 24, Gilberto Fleitas, chief of the Department Against Organized Crime, said that authorities believe the Brazilian crime group First Command of the Capital, known as PCC, ordered Veras’ killing, according to ABC Color.
Also on February 24, the Paraguayan public prosecutor’s office published a statement saying that the white Jeep had been seized and was suspected of being the vehicle used in Veras’ killing. The statement also said that forensic analysis revealed that the gun used in Veras’ killing was also used in at least seven other incidents.
The statement, signed by prosecutor Marcelo Pecci, said that the prosecutor’s office had requested protective measures for Veras’ family from the National Police, and requested the involvement of the country’s witness protection program. According to another report shared with CPJ by the police Transparency and Anti-Corruption Department, authorities granted protective measures to Veras’ widow Cintia Gonzáles.
On February 25, Pecci said authorities believed that the killing was ordered by Sergio de Arruda Quintiliano Neto, known as Minotauro, a PCC member who is imprisoned in Brazil but allegedly commands criminal activities in Paraguay, according to ABC Color.
The Abraji statement said that Veras had worked for more than 15 years in the border region around Pedro Juan Caballero and Ponta Porã, one of the main entry points of arms and drugs in Brazil.
ABC Color journalist Cándido Figueredo Ruíz, who received CPJ’s International Press Freedom Award in 2015, has faced repeated death threats and has a round-the-clock police protection detail.
Figueredo told CPJ in a phone interview that he had exchanged messages with Veras until about 5:40 p.m. on the day he was killed.
“The way he was killed, it was boldness of the criminals. My house was shot twice, but they never came inside because I have police protection,” Figueredo said.
“Since Leo was killed, we are more inside than outside. It is too risky now,” he added. Figueredo said he was skeptical about the investigations, considering the poor record of Paraguayan investigation of killings of journalists in the region.
The communications department of the Brazilian Foreign Affairs Ministry told CPJ by email in February 2020 that the killing was “unacceptable” and said, “it is expected that the investigations carried out by Paraguayan authorities result in a rapid solution of the case and punishment of those responsible.”
On May 1, 2020, Paraguayan national police agents detained Waldemar Pereira Rivas, also known as Cachorrão, believed to be the main suspect in the case, in the Jardín Aurora neighborhood of Pedro Juan Caballero, when Rivas was involved in a traffic incident, according to press reports. An arrest warrant had been issued for him on February 24, after police located the vehicle used for Veras’ killing parked at Rivas’ home, according to press reports.
On May 2, the prosecutor’s office charged Rivas, allegedly the leader of the PCC criminal gang’s operations in the area, with homicide and criminal association for Veras’ killing, according to news reports and Abraji. As of April 2021, Rivas remained in detention at the headquarters of the Specialized Group of the National Police, according to news reports and Abraji.
Rivas has denied the charges against him, according to news reports and Abraji.
On April 29, 2021, prosecutor Alicia Sapriza, from the organized crime division of the Paraguayan public prosecutor’s office, filed a criminal complaint against Rivas and requested an oral trial before a court in Pedro Juan Caballero on charges of homicide and criminal association for Veras’ killing, according to news reports.
However, Gonzáles, Veras’ widow, told Abraji in an interview published on April 30 that Rivas does not match the description she gave to authorities of the man who shot her husband. She also said that she no longer had the police protection that she was initially granted.
In a documentary made by Abraji in 2017, Veras spoke about the threats he had received, saying, "My wife and I, we hardly attend any social events and parties around, unless it is in a place I know is safe.”
He added, "We have to die one day. I always hope that my death won’t be so violent, with too many rifle shots. Here, if a hitman wants to kill you he comes to your door, tells you to open it and he will shoot you. I hope that it will only be one shot in order not to cause too much damage."