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Police involvement suspected in killings of young Brazilian singers

Another funk star has died after being shot on stage, the seventh 'Proibidao' musician to be assassinated over the past three years. Janet Tappin Coelho, in Uberlandia, reports on a sinister pattern of murder on the dance floor

When Daniel Pellegrine decided not to wear his usual bullet-proof vest to the concert he was performing at in Campinas, Sao Paulo, last Saturday night, it proved to be a fatal mistake. The 20-year-old Brazilian funk singer, whose stage name was MC Daleste, was shot in the stomach in front of a 4,000-strong crowd that night and died in the early hours of Sunday morning in hospital.

His death brings to seven the total number of MCs assassinated in Sao Paulo over the past three years. The previous six murders remain unsolved, and Daleste's family do not expect the police to find his killer because they, like many others, believe the murderer has links with the police.

Under suspicion is a rogue group of ex-police officers and serving officers from Brazil's military police who are alleged to have formed death squads that target and kill with impunity. These squads are widely referred to in Brazil as grupos de exterminio or Milicia and operate in the Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro areas.

"They are a group of assassins that is made up of ex-policemen and serving officers," says Marcelo Rezende, an investigative journalist and presenter of Record TV's prime-time criminal investigative programme.

"They are mainly military police officers who have been expelled from the force or who have left to go into crime because it offers a more lucrative return than their salaries. They are supported by some insiders who continue to serve in the force. These bad guys use their experience and the cover and the power of the police to carry out their criminal activities," he explains.

While Mr Rezende says it is premature to give a reason why MC Daleste was killed, he is nevertheless convinced that the previous six murders, between 2010 and 2012, were carried out by the death squads. To date no one has been arrested for the crimes and the civil police, who are responsible for handling the investigation, has refused to rule out the possibility that these gangs are behind the deaths.

The first killings occurred in April 2010, when MC Boladao, the stage name of Felipe da Silva Cruz, and DJ Felipe Silva Gomes, both 20, who performed together, were murdered. Cameras caught the exact moment when two men on a motorcycle passed by and fired several shots at close range.

In November the same year, Ricardo Vatanabe, 42, known as MC Japanese Funk, was found hanged in his office. Police ruled out suicide. The next victim was in April 2011. Forensic evidence taken from the scene of the death of MC Duda Marape, 27-year-old Eduardo Antonio Lara, revealed that bullets found were from .40 calibre pistols issued to the military police.

In April last year, MC Primo, Jadielson da Silva, 28, was shot dead on his doorstep and, days later, MC Careca, Cristiano Carlos Martins, 26, was killed after receiving threats that he would be next.

The only common link between the last two deaths that investigators could find was the kind of music they sung as rappers, called Proibidao, in which verses glorify the murder of police. The songs are prohibited in Brazil and are arrestable offences.

"The problem is that some rappers continue to make music that inflames some factions who are ex-police officers and some who are still in the police. These officers take the insult extremely seriously and it can lead to revenge missions," explains a police source.

"Another reason why some MCs may have been targeted is out of envy, because of the amount of money they earn from their shows and their flash lifestyle. Some believe the rappers should be controlled and pay protection money," he adds.

All the funkeiros were part of a popular music scene that originates from Rio de Janeiro's favelas. Often referred to as baile funk music, the songs originally reflected the life, hardship and experiences of the singers. More recently, the tunes have become more ostentatious, covering materialistic, aspirational and sexual themes similar to rappers in the US.

At the time of his death, MC Daleste was performing around 40 concerts a month and bringing in over R$200,000 (£60,000) from his shows. His father, Roland Pellegrine, says his son was killed out of envy.

"He was a very good boy, he was charismatic and peaceful. He didn't have any enemies. All he wanted to do was to sing his music then go home to his wife, who he had been with since the age of 13," he says.

Pictures posted on the internet show the moment MC Daleste falls on to the stage after being shot during the show.

Investigators say the killer was 20 to 30 metres away from the stage and in the middle of a dense crowd. MC Daleste was shot two times. The first bullet nicked him under the armpit; six minutes later, the second shot was fired.

"It's impossible that no one saw what happened," says Mr Rezende. "I believe the shooter was surrounded by other criminals who were protecting him so he could take the shot. I believe it was a professional hit, done by someone who knows how to use guns, because of the distance and the precision."

Tellingly, the spent bullet that grazed Daleste was later retrieved by the police from the scene. It allegedly matches the ammunition issued by the military police.