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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 23:56 GMT
Brazil probes Moonie land purchases
Members of Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church
The church owns some two million acres in Brazil
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By Tom Gibb
BBC South America correspondent

The authorities in Brazil are investigating the purchase of vast estates close to its border with Paraguay by the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church.

The church owns large amounts of property, including an entire town in Paraguay.

Reverend Sung Myung Moon
Members regard Reverend Moon as the messiah
The area is notorious for smuggling and money laundering and Brazil's authorities are worried about a foreigner owning so much land in a border region.

Since the mid-1990's, the Reverend Moon's Unification Church has been buying up land both in Brazil and in Paraguay.

It now owns some two million acres in Brazil, a vast tract of farmland which has been called "New Hope Ranch."

Model development

Members of the church running the project have said the idea is to create a model of development which would become the envy of the world, with new towns dedicated to different types of agriculture and industry.

But the authorities are worried that the holdings of the 82-year-old Korean multimillionaire, whose followers believe he is the latter-day Messiah, may be a threat to national security

The area has long been a centre for massive smuggling and money-laundering operations.

The authorities are worried the church's lands could be used for people crossing the border without immigration controls.

Tax evasion

The church has also bought large estates, and even a small town, across the border in Paraguay.

Much of the land in Brazil was paid for in cash and the authorities are now investigating possible tax evasion and illegal currency transactions.

The church initially did all it could to get local support, holding regular barbecues for locals and giving out ambulances and other gifts.

But now the project is raising suspicion and the local state legislature has set up a commission to investigate Reverend Moon's activities.

See also:

03 Feb 00 | Americas
Moonies aim to score with Brazilians
15 Aug 99 | Americas
Moonies make 'heaven on earth'
13 Feb 00 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Moonies' mass wedding
07 Aug 01 | Europe
'Moonie' archbishop meets Pope
28 May 01 | Americas
Vatican disowns 'Moonie' archbishop
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