"They cannot be kept in Brazil indefinitely. And they cannot be punished for being foreigners either." This is lawyer José Carlos Dias, justice minister during Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s government, talking about his clients, Joseph Lepore, 42, and Jan Paul Paladino, 34.
Lepore and Paladino are the two American pilots who have been kept virtually as prisoners by the Brazilian authorities since their executive jet collided at the end of September with a Boeing 737 and all 154 people aboard fell to their deaths in the Amazon jungle. Dias has been retained by New-York based ExcelAire to defend the two pilots in Brazil.
Dias law office has filed a petition this Monday, November 6, with Brazil’s Superior Justice Tribunal, an appellate court, requesting that that court assign a judge for the case at least temporarily.
Marina Dias, José Carlos Dias’s daughter, travelled yesterday to Brazilian capital Brasília to take care of this matter. The next step in the process, as soon as a judge is appointed, is to ask that the passports of the two pilots be returned to their owners so that both can go back to their homes and their families in the United States. Both are married and Lepore has two kids: Michael, an eight-year-old boy and Nicole, a three-year-old girl.
The former minister once again told reporters that Brazil has no need to take the passports away since Brazil and the United States adhere to international agreements that would allow for the American pilots to be heard by the Brazilian authorities in their own place in the US.
The pilots had their passports confiscated by Brazil’s Federal Police, on October 3, while they were being undergoing clinical exams at the Brazilian Air Force’s Airspace Medicine Center, in Rio. After that they were sent to the Marriott hotel in Copacabana, in the south side or Rio de Janeiro.
While that would be a coveted place by a tourist the pilots barely leave their room and rarely watch TV, which for the most part is in Portuguese, a language they don’t speak or understand. A constant crowd of cameramen, photographers and journalists outside the hotel hasn’t helped them get the courage to walk around, their lawyers say.
Two inquiries on the pilots have been started by the Brazilian authorities. Soon after the September 29 accident the civilian police of Mato Grosso state began its own probe. A few days later, the Federal Police decided to have its investigation too. Now, both inquiries have halted. They need information from the investigation being done by the Air Force, but the military are not forthcoming about what they have found.
Police chief Renato Sayão, responsible for the federal police investigation, has completely stopped his own inquiry. He hasn’t been able even to hear from the flight controllers who were on duty the day of the tragedy. Sayão summoned 10 controllers for a testimony at the end of last month, but all of them refused to show up presenting instead a medical letter excusing them and explaining they were all undergoing psychiatric treatment.
Since Sayão has no intention to hear the American pilots before getting the Air Force information, which is not coming and the testimony of the air traffic controllers who are not talking, Lepore and Paladino might be in for a long, long wait.
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