Rio De Janeiro -- The Brazilian government is attempting to confiscate 16 rural estates owned by the church founded and headed by South Korean Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the press reported Tuesday.
The estates are among 46 that Moon's Unification Church - which in Brazil goes by the name of Association of Families for Unification and World Peace - has acquired in recent years in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul.
The state is the site of the association's largest agricultural complex, titled New Hope, to which his followers - often known as "moonies" - from around the world have flocked.
Brazil's National Settlement and Agrarian Reform Institute (INCRA) on Monday announced it will initiate administrative proceedings to expropriate 16 of the rural properties, some on the grounds that they are unproductive and thus subject to agrarian reform.
Others may be seized because they are located within a national park or straddle the Paraguayan border, according to the newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo.
In all, the government is seeking to confiscate 10,072 hectares (24,870 acres) of land, almost a seventh of the 67,080 hectares (165,630 acres) the sect owns in Mato Grosso do Sul.
The INCRA's Mato Grosso do Sul superintendent, Celso Cestari, said the organization intends to inspect the moonies' 22 other estates in the near future to determine whether they meet legal criteria for expropriation.
According to Brazilian legislation, large rural properties that are not being farmed by their owners may be seized and distributed among farmers registered in agrarian reform programs.
Five months ago, Brazil's Federal Police opened an investigation into reports of irregularities in the acquisition of the lands and in the church's accounts.
Police are also investigating whether the group has become a "threat to national sovereignty" because of its rapid expansion at the border with Paraguay, where the sect has also acquired land.
In May, in a raid on Moon offices in Mato Grosso do Sul and Sao Paulo, police and tax authorities seized accounting books, $250,000, telephones, computers and other electronic equipment.
The sect's accounts came under scrutiny when former Moon associate Jai Siki Kim told police he had helped the association launder money in Brazil.
Moon, a fervent anti-communist, has been indicted and arrested on tax-evasion charges in the United States, and his organization has been banned in several Latin American countries.