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Tuesday, 9 January, 2001, 03:06 GMT
Brazil hunts Amazon 'land thief'
view of Amazon rainforest
Many remote jungle areas are virtually unregulated
The authorities in Brazil are investigating the activities of a man who allegedly used false land titles to con foreigners into buying large areas of government land in the Amazon rainforest.

The Brazilian Government said Falb Saraiva de Farias sold the land to environmentalists in the United States and Europe, telling them it would be set aside for conservation.

The government is now suing Mr Farias for fraud. He runs a non-governmental organisation called "Forever Green".

Brazil's Agrarian Reform Ministry said the false land titles covered an area equivalent to the size of Ireland.

Lawless hinterland

Correspondents say the problem of land theft is common in remote parts of Brazil, where unscrupulous dealers have used false papers to appropriate vast amounts of territory without the government's knowledge.

Logger in rainforest
Logging has decimated large areas of Amazon rainforest

"He fooled European and US citizens, selling them land that belongs to Brazil," Agrarian Reform Minister Raul Jungmann told Reuters news agency.

"This is a crime that extends abroad. We have asked ABIN [the Brazilian Intelligence Service] for help in this investigation."

The government had cancelled all of Mr Farias' land titles, which covered more than six million hectares (15 million acres), Mr Jungmann said.

Legal case

The alleged con man is still living in the Amazon state of Amazonas, without any pending arrest warrant.

But Mr Jungmann said the authorities were closing in on Mr Farias, and "his hours are numbered".

"I believe we have enough proof to convict him," he added.

Environmental groups legitimately buy tracts of endangered land in Brazil for nature conservation purposes. But often remote plots are held by so-called "grelheiros" - people who falsify land titles, usually with the help of local officials.

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See also:

23 Sep 00 | Americas
Amazon geneticist 'killed hundreds'
21 Apr 00 | Americas
Brazil: Country of the future?
18 Apr 00 | Americas
Boom time in Brazil
06 Apr 00 | Americas
Brazilian land activist walks free
12 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Amazon tree loss continues
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