Alexandre Meneghini  /  AP
Brazilian federal police escort American Airlines pilot Dale Robin Hersh at the Sao Paulo's International Airport of Guarulhos on Wednesday.
updated 1/14/2004 10:43:58 PM ET 2004-01-15T03:43:58

An American Airlines pilot was fined nearly $13,000 Wednesday on accusations he made an obscene gesture when being photographed at the airport as part of entry requirements for U.S. citizens, officials said.

Brazil imposed the new rules that Americans be fingerprinted and photographed at entry points in response the similar rules in the United States for citizens of Brazil and other countries whose citizens need visas to enter.

The pilot, Dale Robin Hersh, lifted his middle finger while undergoing the new security process at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos International Airport, said federal prosecutor Matheus Baraldi Magnani.

Police accused the pilot of showing contempt to authorities, a crime in Brazil, and escorted him to a nearby federal courthouse for possible formal charges.

No charges to be filed
However, Hersh agreed to pay a fine before he leaves Brazil in exchange for no charges being filed, the prosecutor said.

“Since this was a minor crime I proposed that he be fined 36,000 reals ($12,750), which will later be donated to a home for the elderly,” Magnani told reporters.

Hersh was freed on his own recognizance. The prosecutor said Hersh expected to pay the fine Thursday. It wasn’t immediately clear where Hersh was staying Wednesday night.

The prosecutor said Hersh could have faced charges punishable by up to two years in jail.

Crew detained
Hersh’s 10-member crew was detained inside the airport when the incident began Wednesday morning and was not allowed to enter Brazil. Police said the crew was not charged with anything and was returning to the United States on an evening flight.

American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Pantin said the incident was the result of a misunderstanding.

“The company apologizes to the Brazilian government, the airport authorities, the police or anyone else who may have perceived anything they believe to have been disrespectful,” Pantin said.

Late Wednesday, when asked if the airline was paying the fine, Patin said: “We are taking care of any Brazilian government levies at this time.”

The incident is the latest flap in a growing diplomatic spat between Brazil and the United States.

The Brazilian requirement was first imposed at the order of a federal judge, but on Monday it became the government’s official policy, citing the diplomatic concept of “reciprocity.”

On Monday, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva asked President Bush to drop the visa requirement for Brazilians entering the United States, while Brazil’s Foreign Ministry said the requirement could lead to a souring between the two nations.

“Recent episodes, such as the new system of identification of travelers, create a negative climate in public opinion with inevitable political implications, which is not in the interest of the two countries,” the ministry said.

But in Rio de Janeiro, tourism officials are trying to console American tourists arriving at the airport by treating them to samba music and dancers and giving them flowers, jewelry and T-shirts.

Brazil currently requires Americans to have visas to enter Brazil because of reciprocity.

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