One of South America's biggest cocaine kingpins, who evaded police for three decades and even underwent surgery to change his face, has been captured, Brazilian authorities said.

Luiz Carlos da Rocha, nicknamed White Head, was arrested in the western state of Mato Grosso in Sorriso city, the federal police said in a statement on Saturday.

Da Rocha changed his name to Vitor Luiz de Moraes and underwent plastic surgery to successfully dodge police while continuing to run his international drug business. 

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His alleged right-hand man was also captured at a separate location during the operation in which police said 150 agents carried out 24 raids, seizing an estimated $10m worth of luxury cars, aircraft, farms and other property.

The name of the operation was "Spectrum", referring in Portuguese to the phantom-like nature of a fugitive "who lived discreetly and in the shadows ... evading police attempts for almost 30 years", the police said in the statement.

In addition to using extreme violence, da Rocha was being protected by forces with heavy-calibre weapons, police said.

The captured fugitive is accused of having headed an enormous cocaine network, which included production in the jungles of Bolivia, Colombia and Peru, and continued through to distribution on the continent and as far away as the United States and Europe.

He is also accused of being one of the main suppliers to the violent drug traffickers that hold sway in large areas of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Da Rocha is believed to have amassed $100m in personal wealth in the form of vehicles, property and deposits in offshore bank accounts, which authorities said "will be the subject of the second phase of Operation Spectrum".

Source: AFP news agency