Luxury temple owner is arrested in SÃ£o Paulo
Yesterday the owner of the biggest luxury department store in Latin America was arrested in São Paulo and sentenced to 94 years in prison for fraudulent importing, organized crime and tax evasion.
Her prison was somewhat spectacular: pictures of blond and chic Eliana Tranchesi, 53 years old, being escorted by policemen made all the headlines. Many felt sorry for the owner of Daslu. They argue that recent murder scandals – like a girl who killed her parents – ended up with much lighter sentences.
I will not argue on the fairness of the system or compare crimes. Of course different crimes spark different reactions from the general public. But the remarkably heavy sentence by Judge Maria Isabel do Prado has a point. Tranchesi has created a criminal network to evade tax.
Their scheme was simple: Tranchesi and other Daslu employees purchased luxury goods abroad and exchanged labels and price tags to pay much lower tax. All the while her luxury store, Daslu, became a hit temple of consumption for the higher classes, attracting the attention of the media, the rich ladies and the tax officers.
Daslu has sparked polemic since the day it opened its doors four years ago. It’s a kind of a Brazilian version of Harrod’s, except with its back facing a favela and its entrance looking at the Tietê river, an absolutely polluted river that crosses the city and was never fully cleaned due to repeated corruption scandals – by some of the people who often shop at Daslu.
In this luxury temple, with 80 stores and over 180 imported brands, rich people (who often fly in with their helicopters to avoid the chaotic São Paulo traffic) can buy everything from yatchs to Gucci and Dolce&Gabanna purses while drinking glasses of imported champaign.
The prices are remarkably high to Brazilian standards: a single pair of jeans can cost up to 2,500 dollars, while the national minimum wage is about 250 dollars. Clients of the store include members of the rural oligarchy who runs agribusiness in Brazil; the industrial and business sectors; and of course the usual financial market chaps.
In 2005 the federal police raded the store on claims Tranchesi intended to burn documents related to fiscal fraud. Several documents were apprehended, and Tranchesi got a 1-billon-dollar fine. But Tranchesi kept using the scheme even after that event, argues the judge, as was proven with a 1-million-dollar apprehension of Chanel and Gucci handbags purses in a Santa Catarina airport later that year. For the judge, that proves Eliana’s mind “is set to crime”.
Now Eliana’s lawyers will appeal the sentence and have requested home imprisonment because she is being treated for lung cancer. She was released after one day in prison and probably will benefit from home arrest due to her condition.
In Brazil, tax evasion and corruption have typically been crimes one can get away with. In recent years, this has somewhat changed.
Of course it is still very uncommon for anyone rich and influential to actually be kept in prison – they can always count on the help of some of our judges in the Supreme Court. But the fact is – and Tranchesi’s arrest has proven that – that with a tougher federal police and a new generation of prosecutors and judges, white collar crimes are more subject to prosecution. It’s a clear message that is being sent.