Freeport records and Maddie on the agenda of Portuguese and British authorities - Update

While the "Maddie" case, as it is best known, concerns the disappearance of a three year-old girl and the protection given by the British authorities to her parents, namely by the direct interference of diplomacy and Gordon Brown's government, the Freeport's case concerns, according to the latest information, money transfers from accounts in the United Kingdom to Portuguese political personalities and raises questions surrounding the construction of the commercial hypermarket of Alcochete.


Both cases are embarrassing and Lisbon and London would like, above all else, to avoid the details falling into the public domain: the British would like to avoid the role played by the authorities in the McCann case being known, while the Portuguese no longer want to hear talk about suspicions of corruption which could affect the government and in particular the socialist José Sócrates.

Freeport: a disturbing case.

The announcement by the British authorities, about the existence of offshore English bank accounts belonging to companies directly or indirectly linked to Portugal and the case known as Freeport Alcochete, has just revived a case of alleged corruption which the Portuguese government would like to see forgotten and which the authorities in London, at least publicly, would like to see investigated by a joint team.

According to the British, significant sums of money were sent to a group of lawyers in Lisbon acting as financial intermediaries on behalf of various Portuguese personalities.

Meanwhile, a formal meeting between the Portuguese and British was on the investigators' agenda but, according to a source close to the Public Minister, no agreement seems possible because, officially, the Lisbon authorities are still waiting for the results of a rogatory letter sent to the Home Office in 2005 and which, to this day, has obtained no response.

In any case, the matter has not been buried and allegations are flying in both directions between London and Lisbon accusing the English company, Freeport, of having paid "kickbacks" to personalities in the Portuguese world of politics in order to obtain the necessary permission to build the Freeport Alcochete commercial complex on land belonging to the Nature Reserve of the Tejo estuary, the river that borders Lisbon, where the natural habitat of a great number of endangered species is to be found.

The case goes back to 2005 when, in the middle of the election campaign, accusations of corruption were launched against José Sócrates, then candidate for the Socialist Party (PS) and current Prime Minister. After an investigation, initially directed against the press, responsible for disclosure of the matter, the trial judge ended up sentencing a former PJ inspector, José Torrão, to an 18 months suspended sentence for disclosure of confidential documents. According to the judge, Torrão had committed a crime of violation of official secrets in illegally photocopying internal PJ documents before giving them to the Portuguese press, notably the daily "O Independente."

The former PJ inspector's sentence has, meanwhile, been confirmed by the Lisbon Appeal Court, thus frustrating the Justice Minister who was calling for a retrial in consideration of the crime in question not allowing the use of data from detailed billing and the tracking of mobile phones as evidence.

Now, as was the case with the investigation into Madeleine McCann's disappearance, the British authorities have requested that a joint team be set up in order to follow up the investigation. An idea that does not appeal to the Portuguese legal administration and which has allegedly already led the Attorney General, Pinto Monteiro, to refuse the proposition.

According to a source from the Public Ministry in Lisbon, after the really bad experiences with the British government around the Madeleine McCann case, the Portuguese authorities would like to keep more effective control over the investigation. In Portugal, an investigation had already been entrusted to the Setubal PJ, under the supervision of the Prosecutor for the Montijo Public Ministry, but had not produced the expected results and now the case is in the hands of Cândida Almeida, head of the Central Department of Investigation and Criminal Activity. (DCIAP)

Source: Joana Morais

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