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Brazil’s Beleaguered Collor Hit With Criminal Charges

TIMES STAFF WRITER

President Fernando Collor de Mello, already suspended from office and on trial in the Senate, saw his troubles doubled on Thursday when Brazil’s attorney general filed criminal corruption and racketeering charges against him in the Supreme Court.

If the Senate convicts Collor, 43, he will be permanently removed from the presidency and barred from office for eight years. And with Thursday’s new charges, he faces the added indignity of a possible prison sentence.

Meanwhile, the trials and tribulations of the fallen president have shared public attention here with the troubles of the acting president. Since early October, when Vice President Itamar Franco stepped into the presidency after Collor’s impeachment by the lower house of Congress, Brazil’s economic crisis has continued almost unabated.

Monthly inflation is raging at more than 25%, and Franco has come up with no promising plan for bringing it down or for reactivating the stagnant economy. Commentators complain that Franco’s new administration is adrift on dangerous seas.

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“The government has shown little capacity for backing its best intentions,” Gazeta Mercantil, the country’s leading financial daily, said Thursday in an editorial. “We don’t need more diagnoses. We need more action.”

Franco has submitted a fiscal reform bill aimed at reducing inflationary budget deficits, but the proposal is stalled in Congress, in part because Franco, 61, has no political party of his own to support him.

Another problem is his interim status in the presidency. If the Senate should clear Collor, Franco’s administration would end.

But even before Thursday’s criminal charges were filed, weakening Collor’s defense in the Senate, some of the impeached president’s supporters admitted that all but a handful of senators are inclined to vote for conviction.

Collor’s opponents want the Senate trial to end before Christmas. Collor’s allies are said to be seeking delays in the hope that discontent with acting President Franco will grow, swaying votes in Collor’s favor. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is required to convict the president for political “crimes of responsibility” related to corruption.

The impeachment charges were based on findings by a special congressional committee that accused Collor of receiving graft money from his former campaign fund-raiser. The criminal charges filed Thursday, for “passive corruption” and racketeering, are based on results of a parallel investigation by the federal police.

Atty. Gen. Aristides Junqueira sent the charges to the Supreme Court on Thursday evening. Before Collor may be brought to trial, the Supreme Court must be authorized by a two-thirds majority of the lower house of Congress; the Oct. 2 vote for Collor’s impeachment easily exceeded two-thirds.

A Supreme Court trial would be separate from the ongoing Senate trial. The penalty for conviction on the criminal charges against Collor is one to eight years.

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The attorney general also filed criminal charges Thursday against nine others, including Paulo Cesar Farias and Claudio Vieira. Farias was in charge of fund-raising for Collor’s 1989 presidential campaign; Vieira was his private secretary.

Junqueira has what has been dubbed a “corruptogram,” purportedly showing how bribes and extortion money collected from business people by Farias and his companies were used for payoffs and graft. According to the “corruptogram,” $8 million went to pay Collor’s household expenses, including $4.8 million for remodeling and lavish landscaping at his private mansion.


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