French tourists arrested in Brazil


SAO PAULO – Three French tourists arrested in Brazil after an altercation on board a plane “are not doing very well” in poor detention conditions, a consular official said on Thursday.

The French consul general in Sao Paulo, Sylvain Itte, visited two of them, men aged 60 and 63, in a prison in the city early Thursday to find they were crammed into a cell with 30 other detainees, the French official said.

The 60-year-old also suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure.

The third French citizen, a woman aged 54, was being kept in a holding cell in Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos international airport pending a transfer to a women’s prison. She had been there for four days without being able to shower, the official said.

The three are awaiting a court hearing before a judge that has been delayed because state prosecutors only submitted their case file late Thursday, theofficial from the French consulate said.

“We don’t know the charges leveled against the French citizens,” said the official, who could not be named because of French government policy.

The judge’s decision on whether to keep the three in detention pending a possible court case was expected sometime Friday.

The three were arrested by Brazilian police early Monday after a row broke out on a Brazilian TAM airlines flight that had been due to leave late Sunday night but was delayed because of a technical problem.

They were part of a group of 25 elderly French vacationers returning to Paris after a two-week Atlantic cruise.

According to the consulate, the group demanded to be put on another flight after hearing that the TAM aircraft had a problem with its on-board computer.

Their apprehension came in the wake of a still-unexplained June 1 crash of an Air France airliner flying from Brazil to France that killed all 228 people on board.

TAM issued a statement on Thursday saying the group started an “altercation” on board that required the intervention of police because it “put flight safety in danger.”

It did not specify the technical problem encountered, but said that after it was fixed the plane was unable to take off “because a woman passenger decided to get off the aircraft, which forced the baggage service to locate her bags.”

All the remaining passengers were then put on another flight to Paris, it said.

The airline denied information given by consular officials that it had accused the group of French passengers of causing the original flight to be canceled.

The French consulate has complained to Brazilian authorities that it wasnot informed of the arrests immediately, as required under a Vienna Convention governing the detention of foreigners, and that it was initially prevented from seeing the three.