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Brazil: Reign of terrible 'Playboy' ends, but Rio still on edge

Playboy, whose real name was Celso Pinheiro Pimenta, ruled over a lawless slum or favela called Morro da Pedreira, controling a ring dealing in drugs, stolen vehicles and weapons. On Saturday, elite Rio police struck him down, but many questions remain unanswered.

world Updated: Aug 11, 2015 09:09 IST
Playboy,Celso Pinheiro Pimenta,Rio de janeiro

Though Rio de Janeiro officials celebrated on Monday the death of "Playboy" - a brutal gang leader famous for thumbing his nose at the authorities - his killing left new questions unanswered.

The gang boss, whose real name was Celso Pinheiro Pimenta, ruled over a lawless slum or favela called Morro da Pedreira, controling a ring dealing in drugs, stolen vehicles and weapons. On Saturday, dozens of elite police struck, deploying armored vehicles and a helicopter to corner the man known universally as Playboy.

Officials say they found him in a girlfriend's house and that, after his four bodyguards fled, he attempted to shoot at police with a Glock pistol and was himself fatally wounded. "It was a total success, a surgical operation," said federal police officer Carlos Eduardo Antunes Thome in an interview on Monday on Globo television.

The 33-year-old was one of Rio's most wanted men for long. Disque-Denucia, which runs a hotline with rewards for information on criminals, put a 50,000 reais ($14,200) price on Playboy - a fortune in a country where the minimum monthly wage is around $230.

However, Playboy's dramatic removal from the scene highlighted security problems that Rio is facing a year before it is to host the 2016 Olympics.

Police announced they were sending reinforcements into Pedreira, but 48 hours later the neighborhood remained on edge, with schools closed over security concerns and some 6,000 children forced to stay home.

Hundreds of gunmen are believed to have been loyal to Pinheiro and Rio state Governor Luiz Fernando Pezao said they would now be subjected to "a big siege". The gang members, however, have survived many a previous police campaigns and anonymous threats of revenge were already circulating on social media on Monday.

"The goal this week is to kill 50 police," one man purporting to be from a gang said in a recording carried by O Dia news site. "The death of Playboy won't be left like that - it will be a week of terror in Rio de Janeiro."

Looking to surrender?

Relatives of Playboy claim he was trying to surrender and was killed in cold blood. "The truth is that he was murdered," the dead man's uncle, Cosme Pinheiro, told local media. Thome denied this, telling national television that he was shot legitimately and "immediately rescued" and taken to hospital.

Photographs leaked to the local media show Playboy with at least one bullet wound in his chest lying by himself on the floor of a house, although there is no way of knowing whether he remained alive at that moment.

According to Amnesty International, one in six killings in Rio over the last five years have been at the hands of police, which the rights group accuses of "extrajudicial executions" - a charge the police strongly deny.

Convicted of trafficking, robbery and murder, Playboy was twice imprisoned but escaped the second time. He had reportedly been negotiating right before his death to ally his Amigos dos Amigos (ADA) group with the Comando Vermelho gang and to expand operations into neighbouring territory.

If this had worked, it would have signaled a new chapter in a career that saw him mix brutality with a love of publicity. He was believed to be behind a stunt in which four gangsters broke into a sports center and posed in the swimming pool with automatic weapons, possibly mimicking synchronized swimmers.

"It's Playboy talking to you," a voice says in the widely distributed social media post. "I loved the swimming pool!"

In another, Playboy is shown playing at an amateur football game and even giving an interview about his team's performance. But the gang leader also had a softer side, it seems.

Police say they tracked him down when they found out he was going to visit his spiritual advisor in the favela, O Globo reported. And in a newly released fragment of an interview he gave to a well-known figure in AfroReggae, Jose Junior, Playboy readily admits his fears.

"I am afraid to die," he said. "I think that any human being wants to live and wants to be able to raise his children."

Rio state's security chief, Jose Mariano Beltrame, told police not to rest on their laurels. "Playboy is another dead bandit," Beltrame told Brazilian newspapers. "But in a short time there'll be another in his place."

First Published: Aug 11, 2015 08:15 IST