Nelma Kodama: Where is the Dollar Dealer Now?

Although true crime productions have been all the rage in the past few years, the focus within it has recently shifted to non-violent offenses and how they impact the individuals involved. The prime example of this is actually Netflix’s ‘Nelma Kodama: The Queen of Dirty Money,’ a documentary delving deep into this titular Brazillian native’s life of manipulation, luxury, and crime. After all, the notorious black-market currency trader herself features in this original to expose nearly all aspects of her decades-spanning trailblazing corruption as well as financial violations.

Nelma Kodama’s Personal Connections Led Her to Criminality

It was reportedly back when Nelma Mitsue Penasso Kodama was just a young girl growing up in Lins, São Paulo, that she realized the significance of being a completely independent woman. She thus graduated from the local Odontology (Dentistry) University with a plan to set up a private practice, own a 2-bedroom apartment, get a great car, and earn up to around $5,000/month. The truth is her family was affluent since they owned not only a meatpacking plant but also a butcher shop in Diadema, so she was essentially determined to afford the lifestyle she’d always led.

However, everything changed once Nelma realized that being a dentist wasn’t nearly as adventurous or fascinating to her, resulting in her working hard to land a job in the dynamic financial sector. She was actually a professional trader in the 1990s when her bank manager introduced her to the world of illicit currency exchange and its purported primary Santo Andre handler, Julio Cesar Emilio. “I ended up becoming their VIP client,” she candidly revealed in the film. “One day, while I was there, I thought, ‘You know what? I’ll go out to dinner with this guy, at least. He must be interesting; he’s a dollar dealer.”

Though little did Nelma know this simple dinner would quickly evolve into a full-fledged romantic relationship, only for her to subsequently begin dabbling in dollar dealing under his establishment too. “I learned very quickly,” she conceded in the aforementioned original. “I’d never worked with this kind of merchandise before, buying and selling dollars. I was there solely to answer the phone. I wasn’t there to negotiate.” Yet, as time passed, she managed to grasp all aspects of the business by just observing her boyfriend, ultimately leading to her taking over everything when he chose to step back for fear of capture.

There was a point when Nelma lost three million dollars mere days after becoming a millionaire that she seriously contemplated suicide to get away from her offenses too, just to realize she could actually double down. Her thinking then became, “If I lost three, I can make three… [I’ll get back into] the game, and I can make three, four, five…” meaning she was set on making as many millions as possible so as to truly thrive. But alas, this came with significant legal trouble too, starting in 2006 when she was first exposed as her affiliate exchange house was implicated in a scheme for money laundering through bingo houses.

Then came Nelma’s entanglement in the systemic corruption at the state oil company Petrobras via her once-partner/renowned dollar dealer Alberto “Beto” Youssef, which Operation Car Wash brought to light in 2014. She was consequently arrested from Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport while attempting to flee to Italy with €200,000 in cash hidden in her underwear for emergency purposes. She has since expressed that she was merely traveling to Europe to shop as she often did, yet neither the local officials nor the courts seemingly believed her, which did play a small role in her conviction.

Nelma Kodama is Still Facing Legal Troubles

Nelma was actually handed down an 18-year prison sentence after being convicted on charges of corruption, illegal foreign exchange, as well as involvement in a criminal organization, just for it to soon be terminated. Her cooperation with the officials following a few months in federal detention, backed by a formal pardon by then-President Michel Temer in 2017, secured her freedom for a good while. We specify this because she came under fire again in 2018 plus 2019 for allegedly showing off stolen jewelry on social media and posting a video undoing her electronic ankle bracelet, respectively.

As if that’s not enough, after a few years away from any public negativity or scrutiny, Nelma fell into trouble again as she was arrested in Portugal in April 2022 as part of Operation Discovery. This sting by the local authorities aimed at a drug smuggling ring believed to be transporting cocaine into Portugal via private planes, with her being an alleged key coordinator among all parties. She is even accused of having connections with a high-ranking member of Brazil’s most notorious gang, the First Capital Command (FCC), yet she has vehemently maintained her innocence in this entire matter.

According to Nelma, this most recent arrest of hers stemmed from a past relationship with Rowles Magalhaes, especially since he’s apparently a lawyer who became very involved in the drug trafficking scheme. Therefore, today, at the age of 57, she is awaiting trial in connection to this last case — she was previously placed under house arrest, yet this order was recently revoked to grant her complete freedom. So, without a significant other or children at the moment, it appears as if this self-proclaimed entrepreneur, former dollar dealer, and jewelrey, heels, as well as branded clothing enthusiast is simply doing her best to enjoy the luxuries of life while still being based in Brazil.

We should mention that Nelma believes her “greatest achievement, even more so than going beyond where any woman had gone in this field [of dollar dealing] before, was that I had done so with artistry… Whenever I would sit at my desk and begin answering phone calls, it was as if I were conducting an orchestra. What a beautiful thing… It’s called ‘white-collar’ crime for a reason — you can always make yourself make yourself look cleaner than you really are.”

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