Brazil freezes $6mn of Facebook funds as WhatsApp refuses to assist police

© Nacho Doce
A Brazilian court has blocked over $6 million of Facebook money held in the country after WhatsApp failed to turn over a message exchange between gang members of drug traffickers to police.

A federal court in the city of Londrina in the southern Parana state argued that WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service, has been ignoring the court`s ruling to grant police access to conversations of the suspected ring members for five months despite repeated notices. The messages would have provided crucial evidence of the links between the smugglers, hailing from Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia and Spain.

The blocked sum is equivalent to the fines the company is due to pay for disregarding the law, local G1reported. With each court notice, sent once in a fortnight, the amount of penalties increased three times until it reached R 19.5 million ($6.07 million).

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While WhatsApp does not possess any bank accounts in Brazil, its parent company`s funds were placed under arrest.  

The investigation into the gang`s drug-smuggling activity was launched last January. However, the majority of raids, involving searches and seizures of the cargo, that led to arrests of some of the ring members were carried out on Wednesday. The suspected organized crime group is accused of distributing of huge amount of cocaine in trucks with false bottoms. 

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The police representative, Elvis Secco, said that by refusing to cooperate with the investigation, WhatsApp had severely hampered the law enforcement`s efforts.

“The refusal of the company to comply with the court order messed up everything. Without access to the messages sent via application, we cannot find core buyers in Spain and Brazil, and also cannot seize more cargo and reveal other members of the organization," he said.

It is not the first time Brazilian authorities try to coerce the messaging application to follow the local court`s orders in drug-related cases. In May, the court in the northeastern town of Lagarto had blocked WhatsApp services on five major mobile companies for 72 hours nationwide for unspecified grounds. However, shortly after that the ban was overturned by the appeal court. 

In December last year, the Sao Paulo court ordered a suspension of the messenger for 48 hours as it refused to assist in another drug gang investigation. The suspension was short-lived as the ban was lifted only 12 hours later amid the public outrage. 

WhatsApp is extremely popular with Brazilians, where the app boasts over 100 million users.