Brazilian President Faces Criminal Trial
RIO DE JANEIRO
ALREADY impeached for his involvement in a huge influence-peddling scandal, Brazil's suspended President Fernando Collor de Mello now faces criminal charges that could land him in jail for up to eight years.
According to a 150-page formal "denunciation" and 1,100 pounds of supporting documents delivered Nov. 12 to the Supreme Court in Brasilia, there is enough evidence to send Mr. Collor and nine others to trial on 20 corruption counts.
Collor is charged with "passive corruption" and racketeering stemming from his alleged involvement in a giant bribery, kickback, and illegal election-financing ring run by his former campaign treasurer and co-accused, Paulo Cesar Farias, a businessman from Collor's home state of Alagoas.
The documents filed by Attorney General Aristides Junqueira say that Mr. Farias solicited at least $56 million from companies and individuals seeking influence with the government and laundered it through a series of illegal, "phantom" bank accounts set up in the names of fictitious people.
Mr. Junqueira and his investigators say an estimated $7 million of this money wound up in the pockets of Collor and his immediate family.
The charge of "passive corruption" is based on the prosecutors' belief that Collor knew of and benefited from the scheme and did nothing to stop it, although he did not actively solicit the money. That job allegedly was managed by Farias, who is charged with the more serious offense of "active corruption."
One of Collor's lawyers, Evaristo de Moraes Filho, threatened to resign if Collor's personal secretary and co-accused, Claudio Vieira, did not turn over the original loan document used to justify the deposits in Collor-family accounts. The only document yet presented to verify the multimillion-dollar gold-bullion loan taken out in Uruguay was widely denounced as a forgery in testimony before Congress.
Collor - impeached in early October by the Chamber of Deputies, the lower house of Brazil's bicameral legislature - is already on trial in the Senate for failing to uphold the responsibilities of office. While still technically president, his duties are being exercised by the vice president and acting head of state, Itamar Franco.
If convicted for "political offenses" in the Senate, Collor will be formally removed from office and Mr. Franco will serve until the end of Collor's five-year term in March 1995.
The constitutionally required approval of the criminal trial by the Chamber of Deputies is expected by early this week, after which Collor will have 15 days to present a formal, written defense. The Chamber of Deputies, which had approved much of Collor's free-market "modernization program," voted overwhelmingly for his impeachment.
Throughout the crisis, Collor has maintained his innocence and says that the charges are the result of a politically motivated attack on his economic reform plan by leftist politicians.
Collor, who was elected in 1989 on an anti-corruption and free-market economic reform platform, is the only president in the history of Latin America to be peacefully and constitutionally removed from office during his term.
Collor's problems began in May when his brother, Pedro Collor, told a congressional corruption investigation that Farias used his proximity to the president to obtain illegal advantages from government bodies for friends. The subsequent four-month investigation into Farias eventually led them to the Presidential Palace.
The report of the congressional committee concluded that Farias and Collor used the president's sweeping free-market reforms to "open up an avenue" for personal gain.
The Brazilian subsidiaries of several major multinational firms were also linked to the scandal, but Junqueira says he does not as yet have enough evidence to charge their executives.