SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Thousands of Brazilians clamoured for a piece of gangster chic on Tuesday, jostling their way into a sale of goods ranging from flat-screen TVs to designer underwear confiscated from a convicted Colombian drug lord.
Police, overwhelmed by the size of the crowd at the gates of Sao Paulo’s posh Jockey Club, fired pepper spray and pushed some people to the ground as the first bargain-hunters snapped up items, including a collection of Hello Kitty toys, for as little as 1 real (30 pence).
“I’m interested in seeing various items and I’m curious to see what the life of a drug trafficker was like, how ostentatious it was,” said Thiana Souza, an interior designer who was waiting in line with about 5,000 others.
Juan Carlos Ramirez Abadia, who the United States says was one of the most powerful leaders of Colombia’s cocaine cartels, was arrested in Brazil last year and last week received a 30-year prison sentence. His wife, a fan of the Japanese cartoon character Hello Kitty, was also jailed.
Washington wants Brazil to extradite the 44-year-old Ramirez Abadia, also known as “Lollipop,” to face racketeering and other charges.
Three luxurious houses belonging to Ramirez Abadia had already been sold off under a new initiative putting criminals’ goods up for sale and giving some of the proceeds to charity.
On Tuesday, it was the turn of the houses’ contents, ranging from vast collections of shoes and vintage port to plush sofas, fishing gear and brand-name clothes.
One room full of pink Hello Kitty items gave an insight into Ramirez Abadia’s methods. Brazilian media has said he hid messages about drug operations in e-mail images of the cute cat.
“Everyone wants to know why we are receiving from drug dealers,” said Lucien Belmonte, president of a foundation that helps poor children that was benefiting from the sale.
“It’s not from dealers, it’s from justice.”
For Brazilians already caught up in a consumer credit boom, it was too good a chance to miss. Several journalists for a local television network walked off with a huge plasma TV before the horde descended.
Karina Ferreira, a 21-year-old sales assistant, said she did not feel bad about taking over the possessions of a convicted drug runner, in her case about $80 worth of clothes.
“If you think about it, it’s going to a good cause so I don’t mind,” she said.
Editing by Angus MacSwan and Chris Wilson