Rio de Janeiro -- The Brazilian government has targeted for expropriation more than 10,000 hectares of land belonging to the Unification Church, headed by Reverend Sun Myung Moon, because the land is fallow and could be better used, a newspaper report said Tuesday.
The chief of the National Institute of Colonization and Agrarian Reform in Mato Grosso do Sul state, Celso Cestari, told the Folha de Sao Paulo daily that 15 out of 16 farms owned by Moon's followers in the region are not productive and could be included in the land distribution programme.
Cestari said the only Unification Church farm examined that is productive also will be confiscated, since it was found to violate an environmental law stipulating that at least 20 per cent of the original vegetation must be preserved in privately-held lands in Brazil.
The report said the haciendas the Brazilian government is moving to expropriate are a small fraction of the many properties owned by Moon followers in Mato Grosso do Sul, located near the border with Paraguay.
The Unification Church organization has acquired 46 haciendas in Mato Grosso do Sul, covering 67,080 hectares, according to the Institute of Agrarian Reform.
Cestari said investigations would be launched into 22 of those properties to see if they are abiding by the law.
A Unification Church spokesman, Neudir Simao Ferabolli, charged the expropriation was "politically motivated" and born of the "exaggerated bias that exists around the Moon stigma."
Ferabolli said that the haciendas the government claims are lying fallow "were never farmed and cannot be farmed, due to the poor quality of the soil".
He said Moon followers wanted to use the farms to build tourist centres.
Faced with the takeover of its lands, the Unification Church has two weeks to present a defence to try to block the action and could file a legal writ in opposition before the courts.