Brazil Arrests Businessmen For `Economic Crimes'

BRAZIL'S new economic plan has led to the arrest of about 30 businessmen and bankers for ``economic crimes'' and a police raid on a company that publishes a book describing tax shelters. Several of the arrested businessmen have been held in jail for days without being charged and without a bail hearing.

The incidents, critics say, show that President Fernando Collor de Mello's new economic measures have resulted in serious civil liberties violations. ``We are heading for a dictatorship. The arrests are a flagrant violation of rights consecrated in the Constitution,'' says legal scholar Gofredo de Silva Telles in a television interview.

Mr. Collor announced his economic plan on March 16, one day after taking office as Brazil's first popularly-elected president in 29 years. He passed the economic package using ``provisional measures,'' which became law immediately but can be voted down by Congress within 30 days. Brazil's Supreme Court is due to hear arguments tomorrow regarding the legality of the ``economic crime'' portion of the plan.

The measures include a 30-day price freeze, a new national currency, and a freeze on assets of more than $1,200 in private savings accounts and $600 in money market funds. The freeze withdrew an estimated $115 billion from circulation, about 80 percent of all bank deposits.

Also included in the plan was a controversial provisional measure that subjects managers and owners of companies that commit ``crimes against the popular economy'' to two to four-year prison sentence.

Last week, Antonio Gaspar, manager of the Eldorado supermarket, was arrested in Sao Paulo, and charged with economic abuses - the most serious of which was to increase the price of some fish by 500 percent.

Police raided the Tama publishing house in Rio on March 19, seized copies of the book ``Tax Havens,'' which describes various tax shelters, and charged two of the company's officials with ``inciting tax evasion.''

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