SAO PAULO, Feb 23, 2000 (Reuters) - A high-profile Brazilian lawmaker, known for his campaign against destruction of the Amazon rain forest, said on Wednesday he has asked the government to investigate controversial religious leader Rev. Sun Myung Moon's large purchases of land in another natural wonder.
Fernando Gabeira said he has asked the Federal Revenue Service to investigate Moon's purchase over the last five years of 138,000 acres (56,000 hectares) of swampland on the fringes of the Pantanal, the world's largest wetland.
"I have nothing against Moon's Unification Church ... but it is the way he came into Brazil and started buying up land without anyone controlling it," Gabeira told Reuters in a telephone interview. "A huge ecological reserve is at risk."
Gabeira, the lone congressional representative of Brazil's Green Party, has earned his environmental stripes in Brasilia by pushing through laws to promote recycling and curb deforestation. He also once shut down a nuclear power plant.
Now Gabeira is targeting Rev. Moon, who is building a closed-door community for his followers just south of the Pantanal -- a 96,500 square-mile (250,000 square-kilometre) wetland flooding area that is home to various exotic and threatened species, like jaguars and alligators.
Moon was said to be fascinated by the Pantanal during a fishing holiday five years ago, and decided to build a compound there. It now houses 2,000 people.
"We have reports that the community has been dumping untreated sewage into River Prata," said Gabeira, who is now leading a group of lawmakers protesting against Moon's expansion. "The Reverend is also constructing an airport and a runway of four kilometres (2.5 miles) in virgin territory."
The spokesman for the Unification Church in Brazil, Cesar Zaduski, denied reports of polluting the River Prata, though he said Moon had future plans to build an airport as well as a giant soccer stadium for the group's famous mass weddings.
The 80-year-old Moon, who was briefly jailed in the United States in the 1970s for tax evasion, owns a newspaper in Washington, D.C., a travel agency and a seafood canning plant.
Gabeira is also no stranger to controversy. He was one of the leftist guerrillas who kidnapped U.S. Ambassador Charles Elbrick in 1969 to gain the release of political prisoners held by the military government at the time. His autobiographical book about the account was turned into an Oscar-nominated movie "Four Days in September."
He was eventually captured, tortured and exiled before returning to Brazil in 1979 where he made headlines, first for wearing a tiny crochet thong on a Rio de Janeiro beach and later for his views on the environment and minority rights.