Pubdate: Tue, 30 Nov 1999
Source: Irish Times (Ireland)
Copyright: 1999 The Irish Times
Contact:  11-15 D'Olier St, Dublin 2, Ireland
Fax: + 353 1 671 9407
Author: Nicole Veash


BRAZIL - When police arrested Father Georges Saliba they thought he was
an impostor using the sanctity of the cloth to escape detection.

With 11.5 kg of cocaine strapped to the inside of his cassock, they
instantly dismissed the 47-year-old's claims that he was a Catholic
priest. But it was revealed last week that the drug mule is in fact a
real priest who regularly celebrates Mass in Sao Paulo, Latin
America's biggest city.

Gen Gilberto Tadeu Vieira Cezar, chief of Sao Paulo's federal police,
said: "Father Saliba was on his way to Portugal when officers arrested
him at the international airport. He was carrying cocaine which was
divided into small bags and strapped to the inside of his religious

The Lebanese priest, who moved to Brazil 19 years ago, has admitted to
regular drug running between Brazil and Europe. In the past year alone
he has made four trips smuggling narcotics and has collected more than
$120,000 for his work. However, he insists that this money is
immediately re-directed to needy causes in his diocese.

After the priest's arrest, officers searching his house - which Father
Saliba shares with his mother - discovered photographs of him kissing
a woman.

They identified her as a sales clerk, Ms Marilia Cassia Teixeira (29),
and arrested her as an accessory to the crime. "We went to her house
and found her trying to make a midnight getaway in her little
Citroen," said Gen Cezar.

"Her car was packed with stuff. She had two clean priest's cassocks in
her suitcase along with several plane tickets in her handbag. They
were for a variety of international destinations including Amsterdam,
Berlin and Milan. One was in her name, the other in Saliba's."

But Ms Teixeira, who is seven months pregnant, insists she and the
priest are "just good friends" and has denied all involvement with his
narcotic smuggling.

At the Santo Antonio Church, where Father Saliba worked, parishioners
expressed their disgust at the revelations. Mr Jose Darcy, a regular
worshipper, said: "He arrived, prayed and left. He didn't make friends
with anyone and he didn't get involved in any of our church projects."

Another, Ms Teresa Simioni, said: "The name of this church has been
brought into disrepute. After all our work with the youth, telling
them not to take drugs, how can a man of the cloth do something like

Police have revealed that Father Saliba already has a record for drug
running. Nine years ago he was arrested in Australia with 2 kg of
heroin hidden in a secret compartment of his suitcase.

A spokesman for the Metropolitan Churches of Sao Paulo said: "I would
like to distance the Catholic Church from this man. His behaviour
horrifies us all."

The spokesman added that the Church had no idea why they had never
been notified of his previous conviction for drug running in
Australia. "We are initiating an internal inquiry," he said.
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