Brazil's government, bowing to a storm of protest and reversing an earlier decision, ordered Friday that 17 tons of luggage brought home by the Brazilian World Cup soccer team be inspected and taxed by customs.
The Economy Ministry said in a statement it was opening an investigation into the incident late Tuesday in which players and team officials refused to allow their luggage to be inspected by Rio de Janeiro customs officers.
Asked if this meant the 17 tons of boxes and crates--including refrigerators, televisions, videos, washing machines and microwave ovens--that returned with the soccer team would now be subject to customs duties, a ministry spokeswoman said: "Yes, they will."
This move effectively reversed an initial dispensation granted by President Itamar Franco late Tuesday. The president ordered the baggage to be released uninspected to prevent a threatened boycott of a victory parade in Rio de Janeiro by the team.
The World Cup baggage controversy became an embarrassment to Franco's government Thursday when Brazil's top tax official, Federal Revenue Secretary Osiris Lopes, resigned. Lopes said he believed the law should be equal for everyone, even soccer heroes.
The incident provoked a storm of criticism against the government and the Brazilian Soccer Confederation (CBF), whose leaders had blocked customs officials from checking the luggage.
"They are all losers in this sorry episode," O Globo newspaper said in an editorial. A commentary in Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper said federal tax chief Lopes' resignation "was a moral slap in the face for President Itamar Franco."
The dispute over the luggage threatened to sour the national mood of euphoria that had gripped Brazil since the team beat Italy last Sunday on penalty kicks, 3-2. Leading political figures also chastised the government for its handling of the case.
"Even if the team are four-times world champions, if they bring fridges back as contraband booty then they have to pay the tax," Sao Paulo Mayor Paulo Maluf said.
Customs officials in Rio de Janeiro said the amount of duties due on the excess luggage brought back by the squad, which left the country with only two tons, could total $1 million.
Brazilian customs laws require the payment of duties on any purchases made abroad over the value of $500 per person.