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CRIME

Gang suspected of São Paulo attack on Spanish minister’s son arrested

Robbers killed Italian friend of José Ruiz-Gallardón Utrera in July assault

María Martín
The scene of the São Paulo attack.
The scene of the São Paulo attack.

São Paulo police on Tuesday arrested a gang of thieves whom they suspect may have been responsible for the July attack on José Ruiz-Gallardón Utrera, son of Spanish Justice Minister Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, in which his Italian friend was killed.

Tommaso Lotto, 27, died after being shot in the chest on July 21 when two assailants attacked the car in which he was driving with Ruiz-Gallardón in the upmarket Itaim neighborhood of the Brazilian city.

The assailants, who were traveling on a motorbike, had banged on the window of the Honda Civic with a gun when it stopped at some traffic lights. Lotto decided to get out of the vehicle and the criminals, who interpreted the action as a threat, shot him. He died several hours later in hospital.

After fleeing the car, 26-year-old Ruiz-Gallardón was chased by one of the attackers -- unusual in this kind of assault -- but managed to get away unharmed. The area where the attack took place and telephone wire taps of the gang, which specialized in stealing luxury watches, have led police to consider them the main suspects in the assault.

A police spokesman told EL PAÍS that a "second phase of the investigation" is now underway in which Ruiz-Gallardón and other witnesses will collaborate to identify the suspects. So-called Operation Spear Head, which has been carried out in the Campo Limpio, in the south of the city, as well as the Taubaté and Taboão da Serra districts, has enabled São Paulo authorities to shed light on the ordered assassinations of two military police officers and prevent the death of another agent from an elite group in October, reported the local Folha do S. Paulo newspaper.

They used small guns and afterward they hid them in the crash helmet"

"In reality, the investigation was aimed at shedding light on violent robberies on public highways against the occupants of vehicles, the main aim of which was seizing luxury watches," explained Celso Marchiori of the Civic Police's bank robbery unit. "But we also discovered that they were practicing other criminal activities, such as the assassinations of military police officers."

According to police, the deaths were ordered from prison by leaders of Primer Comando de la Capital, the criminal group that controls the drug trade in the state. Despite being behind bars, the gang is coordinating a street war against police that has claimed over 300 lives in two months.

Ruiz-Gallardón, one of the Justice Minister's four children, had been in Brazil for over a year working in the office of the prestigious Uría-Menéndez law firm.

Very shaken up by the assault and the death of his friend, the young lawyer traveled back to Spain the day after the incident to reunite with his family and spend the rest of the summer in Nerja, in Málaga province, according to sources at the Spanish consulate in São Paulo. He decided to return to Brazil just under a month later.

His friend Lotto, a graduate of the Bocconi University in Milan, had worked as a financial advisor in London and Milan. Employed by a bank, he had decided to move to São Paulo to look for work barely three months before his death.

The traffic lights on the crossroads between Nove de Julho avenue and San Gabriel where the attack took place have been known as a common spot for robberies on drivers for the last decade.

"The characteristics of those arrested and the place where they were operating mean there is a good chance they are guilty of that crime," said a police spokesman.

The six people arrested had developed a method for hiding their weapons after the attacks that surprised police: they put the revolvers in a small compartment hidden in the crash helmet of the motorcyclist. "They used small guns and after the robbery hid the weapons in the crash helmet," explained the Civil Police delegate. "That compartment passed unnoticed in any police inspection."

Incidents of this type are common in the state of São Paulo. So far this year, 289 people have died in all forms of assault in the area.

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