‘Criminal Code’ True Story Explained: What Happened In Ciudad del Este On April 24, 2017?


Criminal Code, the 8-part Netflix crime thriller, makes us privy to the pursuit of the police officers from Brazil and Paraguay who were trying to catch criminals with the audacity to conduct one of the biggest robberies that was ever witnessed by both nations. We call it audacious because of the way the perpetrators went about their business as if they were completely oblivious to the existence of the law enforcement authorities. They employ methods that make you realize how much planning would have gone into it and the kind of resources the criminals had at their disposal to first conduct a heist and then tackle the law enforcement authorities of both nations. The manhunt went on for several days, and at the end of it, a very unlikely thing happened, which probably nobody had expected at the beginning of the fiasco. The forensics department became the star of the show, and it was through them that the perpetrators were put behind bars. Though Paraguay, even after the incident, did not have a national DNA database that it could rely on, the case made sure that the Brazilian authorities enhanced their system and moved towards a better future.

You can say that Criminal Code is very loosely based on real-life events that took place in Ciudad del Este on the fateful day of April 24, 2017. The modus operandi of the heist, the way the robbers tried to escape after the crime was committed, and how the forensics team caught the perpetrators using the DNA they found at the hideout and the crime scene are a few things that have been kept quite similar to reality. Apart from that, the makers have included fictitious characters and added subplots and events that didn’t happen in real life, mainly to dramatize the narrative and increase the entertainment quotient.

At the beginning of the Criminal Code, we saw that Benicio got to know that a few robbers who were involved in the Proguard heist had entered Brazil through a lake. He went there only to find out that he was outnumbered since there were a lot of them, and he only had Suellen with him. We saw the robbers, under the leadership of Soulless, break into smaller groups, hijack vehicles of families that were traveling on the same route, and then try to escape by disguising themselves as travelers. The law enforcement authorities and the border forces were alerted, and a lot of suspects were caught during the crackdown that was conducted. This did happen in real life, where the police actually had an altercation with these absconding criminals near a lake just when they had crossed the borders.

We saw Benicio check the CCTV footage and see how the criminals had detonated a bomb and entered the precincts of the Proguard company. In reality, too, the perpetrators had made use of explosives to break the wall of the cash transit company, Prosegur, and that’s how they entered the facility and opened the vault where all the cash was stored. It is true that the entire area was prone to robbery, but this time, the perpetrators had shown complete disregard for the authorities, which was pretty evident by their actions. The scale and magnitude, the impact it had later on, and the amount of cash that was stolen were some of the reasons why the Ciudad del Este incident was termed the robbery of the century. The people had never witnessed such a crime, and the scary aspect was that it was planned and organized as if it were a military operation targeted to bring down the entire state machinery.

The police commissioner, after the real-life incident took place, requested the court of law to allow them to include the genetic profile of all the suspects they had caught and the people who they thought could have had something to do with the robbery in the Brazilian National DNA Database. In Criminal Code, it is shown how the work of Yuri, the young guy who was handling things in the forensics department of Foz, came in handy for the law enforcement authorities. It is rightly shown in the series that through one of the suspects, the police got to know about the hideout from which the gang was operating. The place served as a base camp for the perpetrators, and the fault they committed was that they believed that the authorities would never be able to find their base. They didn’t take any kind of precautions when they stayed there, and the house was like a goldmine of DNA evidence. In real life, too, approximately 500 samples of DNA evidence were retrieved from that house, and the forensics team knew that if they did their job diligently and bit by bit made progress then it could be the “DNA hit of the year”. They knew from the very beginning that they could win the award, change how things were done in the country, and help the authorities in a big way to catch the perpetrators.

A lot of characters like Benicio and Suellen are not based on any one specific person, but they take inspiration from many real-life people and represent the people inside the entire police force. The real-life robbery shook the entire society and caused a furor, but the series fails to have any sort of impact due to its scattered narrative and the concocted manner in which the entire story unfolds. We were not able to understand, till the end, what the central conflict of the series was and why so many subplots were given importance when they had nothing to do with the endgame. The tragedy had entirely changed the system for good, and experts predicted that the crime rate would reduce in Brazil after the advent of such an extensive DNA database. As much as we understand, the story would have looked quite appealing on paper, but the execution wasn’t able to do justice to it.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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