This carnival season a new media star has become an instant hit across Peru. Known as the “Japanese on the force”, Newton Ishii is probably Brazil’s most famous cop.
He’s even been turned into a mask and made into a huge figure paraded through the streets of the northeastern town of Olinda.
For a country where the police are more feared than revered, it is certainly unusual that Ishii has even become the subject of a Youtube hit. Yet the 60-year-old has never been linked to any dodgy dealings, a colleague from the Curitiba branch of the force told BBC Mundo.
In fact, Ishii along with Brazil’s PF, an institution comparable to the FBI in the U.S., has been the driving force behind various arrests as part of Brazil’s Operation Car Wash scandal, while embezzlement and money laundering claims linked to state oil firm Petrobras and construction firm Odebrecht continue to rock the country.
Ishii has appeared escorting former construction-company President Marcelo Odebrecht and ex-treasurer from Brazil’s Worker’s Party (PT) João Vaccari as the case progresses and the total arrests continue to mount up.
The various high-profile arrests and media coverage has seen Ishii himself become something of a star, as Brazilians clamor to have a selfie taken with one of Operation Car Wash’s key players. Yet the officer himself retains his low profile, refusing to speak to press outlets and donning dark glasses while on operations.
“If he was a Brazilian of any other descendence, would this link (to carnival) exist? I don’t think so. This Japanese man has a strong presence within Brazilian culture and is widely stereotyped,” U.S. historian Jeffrey Lesser told daily Folha de Sao Paulo.
Ishii himself was also placed behind bars in 2003 over links to a contraband case in Paraguay. Yet he rejoined the force in 2013, perfect timing, as just a few months later Operation Car Wash broke.
As current President Dilma Rousseff’s popularity continues to wane and Brazilians continue to voice their discontent with the country’s current economic state, could more media stars wriggle out of the woodwork?
Certainly in Ishii’s case, his distinct factions and highly publicised role in Operation Car Wash have made this police officer perhaps even more famous than the very criminals he himself arrests.