Judge orders arrest of Brazil airline magnate


A judge issued an arrest warrant for an airline and bus company magnate who is one of Brazil’s richest men in connection with accusations he ordered the killings of two men in a land dispute, court officials said Friday.

The warrant for the arrest of Constantino de Oliveira, who co-founded Brazil’s Gol airline with his sons, was issued Thursday based on evidence police gathered about the 2001 killings. The airline, which started as a small budget carrier in 2001 is now Brazil’s second largest and has flights throughout South America.

After police announced they were searching for Oliveira in Sao Paulo, his lawyers filed court paperwork seeking to have the warrant eliminated, the court said in a statement.

Local media reported late Friday that a judge had granted Oliveira house arrest. Globo TV also said the 78-year-old Oliveira is undergoing treatment for an undisclosed medical treatment.

The warrant accuses Oliveira of ordering the killing of a man accused of leading an invasion of one of his properties and a former employee who also sought to occupy the same piece of land. Local media said the property was a bus company garage lot in Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, used by Oliveira’s Planeta bus company.

The Associated Press could not reach Oliveira’s lawyers Friday. Gol said Oliveira has not been linked to the company since April.

In December 2008, authorities twice sought a murder indictment against Oliveira, whose fortune is estimated at more than $1 billion.

At the time, Oliveira, widely known in Brazil as Nene Constantino, released a statement “vehemently” denying any wrongdoing.

Oliveira was a long-haul trucker who started a bus company in the 1950s that became one of Brazil’s biggest. He launched Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA as a no-frills airline in 2001, and the carrier rapidly made inroads into the huge Brazilian market as Brazil’s flagship carrier Varig collapsed under a mountain of debt. Gol later bought Varig.

Killings such as the one police accuse Oliveira of ordering are frequent in Brazil, though they mostly occur in rural parts of the Amazon region as opposed to heavily populated zones like Brasilia.

The Catholic Land Pastoral, a watchdog group, says more than 1,100 people have been killed in land disputes in the past two decades.