By Kate Rintoul, Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On Saturday, June 28th, Mille Ballai, the 34 year-old charismatic co-owner of the Alto Vidigal hostel died from a head trauma resulting from a serious altercation. Police found valuables, including about $7,000 in cash, a computer and two cellphones, suggesting the incident wasn’t the result of an attempted robbery.

Mille Ballai Miuta, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News, Brazil
Mille Ballai, an Iranian naturalized in Sweden who moved to Rio last year to take over Alto Vidigal, was killed last weekend, photo by Stefan Bennhage/GP.

Living in Sweden, Ballai’s family were informed of his death on Sunday but have found it hard to communicate with police in Rio. Speaking to the Swedish newspaper GT, his mother, Moshgan Ballai said: “We try calling people down there. But it feels so terrible that we are not there. We know nothing about what happened. I can not describe how we feel, it’s unbelievable.”

With no clear motive for the murder, police are looking into several lines of inquiry, including analyzing CCTV footage from the hostel and interviewing staff. The investigation into the murder could be set back as those with information might be reluctant to speak to police for fear of retribution.

Those who knew Ballai have said that he was a compassionate man who was inspired by helping those around him. One local Vidigal resident who preferred not to be named told O Globo: “He was always friendly, charismatic. He had no enemies. I am shocked by the murder.”

Ballai, who worked as a film producer in Sweden had fallen in love with the favela community after staying at another hostel there and had immersed himself in the local scene. Just the day prior to his death in a profile interview with the Wall Street Journal he had said he felt completely safe in Vidigal.

While Vidigal was once considered a dangerous place, it had become increasingly gentrified, thanks in part to the success of hostels such as Alto Vidigal which offered large weekly parties and interesting experiences to an international crowd. The presence of the hostel had not gone without controversy, with some linking it to rising property prices and a legal dispute over the land in 2013.

Read more (in Portuguese).

* The Rio Times Daily Update is offered to help keep you up-to-date with important news as it happens.


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