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Saturday, 26 August, 2000, 18:25 GMT 19:25 UK
Brazil judge is most wanted fugitive
Brazil's President Fernando Henrique Cardoso
Mr Cardoso's government deeply embarrassed by the scandal
By Stephen Cviic in Sao Paulo

A Brazilian judge, Nicolau dos Santos, has become one of the world's most wanted men after allegedly stealing more than $90m from a courthouse building project in Sao Paulo.

Interpol has placed Mr dos Santos in its "red" category alongside men like the Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.

The federal police have distributed 8,000 posters around Brazil and abroad.

Judge Nicolau has led the authorities a merry dance

The posters show a balding, elderly man in a suit and tie looking out at the world through a pair of glasses.

Above his photograph is written the word Wanted in Portuguese in large letters.

Underneath is a freephone number for anybody who has information about his whereabouts.

Spending spree?

Two security agents have gone to Europe following reports that the judge has been spending money there.

But the truth is that since his disappearance in April, Judge Nicolau has led the authorities a merry dance.

He is at the centre of one of Brazil's biggest ever corruption scandals.

São Paulo
The whereabouts of the Sao Paulo judge remain unknown
The huge unfinished courthouse building, is a bleak reminder to Brazil's government and people of how easy it is to steal from the public coffers.

The failure by authorities to catch him is an embarrassment and a national joke.

High life

Media reports suggest that Judge Nicolau enjoyed the high life - he had an apartment worth $1m in Miami, two Mercedes and two Porsches, and various bank accounts around the world.

Last year, as the scandal was coming to light, he appeared before a congressional commission to deny the charges; but four months ago, as the circle around him closed, he simply vanished into thin air.

Judge Nicolau could be anywhere - in Europe, the United States, Argentina or Uruguay.

It is equally possible that he is sitting tight somewhere in Sao Paulo, protected by one of his powerful friends.

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See also:

02 Apr 00 | Americas
Brazil focuses on corruption
27 Mar 00 | Americas
Brazilian mayor back at work
04 May 00 | Americas
Brazil's ex-first lady convicted
11 Mar 00 | Americas
Wife's TV attack on Brazilian mayor
22 Sep 99 | Americas
Brazilian deputy 'ran death squads'
17 Mar 00 | Americas
Brazil keeps it in the family
24 Nov 98 | The Economy
Ministers quit in Brazil scandal
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