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It's an Old Brazilian Custom : Soccer: When you bring home the World Cup for the fourth time, you also bring tons of duty-free luggage.

July 22, 1994|From Reuters

SAO PAULO, Brazil — Brazil's government tax chief resigned Thursday in a dispute over the failure of the victorious Brazilian World Cup soccer squad to pay nearly $1 million of customs duties on excess luggage brought from the United States.

The dispute threatened to spoil the euphoria produced by Brazil's fourth World Cup title.

Federal Revenue Secretary Osiris Lopes Filho told reporters he was quitting over differences with President Itamar Franco.

Lopes said the last straw had been the president's decision to overrule his order that 17 tons of luggage brought back from the United States by the Brazilian soccer delegation should be subject to normal customs inspection and duties.

"One of my objectives as a member of the government was to show that the law could be carried out in Brazil," said Lopes, who has spearheaded a government drive against tax evasion.

Brazilian newspapers ran front-page stories Thursday on how the players and soccer federation officials had refused late Tuesday in Rio de Janeiro to allow customs officials to inspect their luggage, which was carried in five trucks to their hotel.

The delegation arrived in Rio on the last leg of a marathon three-city homecoming celebration marking the World Cup victory.

The team brought home refrigerators, televisions, videos, washing machines and microwave ovens, which customs officials estimated would be subject to duties of nearly $1 million.

Some of the merchandise was bought while the team was staying in Orange County. Players, coaches and their wives purchased so much merchandise during their stay at the Fullerton Marriott that some of it had to be stored in the hotel's ballroom, hotel officials said.

Brazilian customs laws require duties on any purchases abroad over the value of $500 per person.

"The officials, coaches and players are making a bad start to their careers as four-time world champions," Brazil's O Globo newspaper said in a front-page editorial.

"They achieved a great feat and deserve the gratitude of their compatriots, but neither one thing nor the other makes them into special citizens," the newspaper said, adding they should set an example by paying the customs duties.

The soccer players had spent nearly an hour late Tuesday arguing heatedly with Rio airport customs officials.

The controversy threatened to disrupt an already delayed victory parade through Rio's streets until an order came through from the Presidential Palace in Brasilia, via Economy Minister Rubens Ricupero, to release the luggage uninspected.

In the heat of the moment, soccer federation officials and players--including star forward Romario--even threatened to boycott the Rio parade and hand back medals they had been awarded by President Franco, Brazilian newspapers said.

"The truck is not leaving the airport without my luggage," O Globo quoted Romario as saying. "We're not smugglers. We represented Brazil in front of 2 billion people in the world. If they don't release my luggage, I'm giving back my medal."

Rio customs chiefs then threatened to prosecute the Brazilian Soccer Confederation for non-payment of the duties.

The homecoming itinerary of the victorious World Cup squad had already provoked a controversy by not including Sao Paulo, Brazil's biggest city. Sao Paulo Mayor Paulo Maluf publicly condemned what he said was a deliberate snub.

Local officials said Thursday that the team would visit Sao Paulo on July 29 to receive the city's separate homage.

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