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Former President Fernando Collor de Mello's acquittal on corruption charges has outraged many Brazilians who see the verdict as a step backward in the crusade to clean up government.

A divided Supreme Court ruled 5-3 Monday that there wasn't enough evidence to convict Collor on the charges that forced him to resign in disgrace in 1992 following months of nationwide street protests.The court excluded the prosecution's strongest evidence against Collor - computer disks detailing the workings of the purported corruption network and tapes of phone conversations - saying they were obtained illegally.

Congress had impeached Collor, 45, for taking part in a scheme that netted up to $100 million in kickbacks from builders who were awarded public works contracts.

After a three-month trial, he resigned as the Senate met in December 1992 to decide whether to expel him from office. He was barred from public office until 2001.

Some specialists in Brazilian law defended the court for basing its ruling on technical grounds rather than political motives.

"Collor was not absolved, he was simply not condemned because of a lack of hard evidence," said Ives Gandra Martins, a law professor at the University of Sao Paulo. "This decision was to be expected."