Former Portuguese prime minister vows revenge after media circus corruption court case collapses

 In Business, Law, News

Portugal’s former Socialist Party prime minister, José Sócrates, who was in power when the troika took over the country’s finances in 2011, has vowed to sue the Portuguese state after a long-standing corruption case fell on Friday.

He also said that the corruption case brought against him was political and orchestrated by the opposition party PDS and says he was thrown to the lions by his own party, the Partido Socialista (PS). “Politics loves betrayal but hates the betrayer,” he says in his book which will be launched in the coming days called ‘Só Agora Começou’. (Now it’s just begun)
Operation Marques, which brought a portfolio of accusations such as corruption, tax evasion and money laundering against the ex-prime minister and Portugal’s most famous banker Ricardo Espírito Santo by the Portuguese Public Ministry, became a long-standing media case that gripped the nation for seven years and made ‘Yes, Minister’ and ‘House of Cards’ look positively boring by comparison.
This was all the stuff of a racy novel: there was bribery, money laundering, corruption, trafficking of influence, fat envelopes stuffed with wads of cash, a fall guy. You name it, Operation Marques had it all, except murder in the case against the man once voted the sexiest Portuguese politician by a magazine.
There were stories about the former prime ministers live-it-up lifestyle in a luxury Paris apartment, reports of millions stashed away in offshore banks, and even tales of car boots stuffed full of cash at a time that the Portuguese public were suffering from the austerity measures put in place by the IMF/EC/ECB troika after the sovereign debt crisis which saw the country’s GDP plummet 8%.
Stories also swirled about banker Ricardo Salgado who famously said “I own the whole lot” as the banking empire he ran, the Espírito Santo group, collapsed in 2014 around him. The judge, Ivo Rosa, has ordered him to stand trial on three cases of breach of trust, although he dropped allegations that he bribed Sócrates to smooth deals involving Portugal Telecom that earned the banking group over €8Bn.
Now, after a three-hour televised summing up and pronouncement on Friday afternoon by the judge, in what was certainly the most extraordinary court case in Portugal since the famous forger Alves do Reis falsified 500 escudo notes in the 1920s making the Bank of Portugal a laughing stock at the time, cleared José Sócrates of almost all of the counts he was being charged with.
The case itself involved 189 crimes, 28 legal defendants (arguidos) and nearly seven years of media coverage and revelations both in tabloid newspapers such as Correio de Manhã and respected broadsheets such as Expresso and Sol.
Hounded by journalists, even after the court case while taking a drink near the Lisbon court house with his legal counsel (he called the journalists rude and told them to leave him alone) most of the accusations were thrown out of court, slammed by Judge Ivo Rosa as fantasy and speculation and accused the public ministry of providing a lack of proof and concrete evidence and of building an incoherent case which lacked rigour.
However, the court did order the former prime minister to stand trial for money laundering and falsifying documents despite finding insufficient grounds to indict him on the corruption allegations.
The Portuguese Public Ministry, which had accused José Sócrates of receiving €34 million in backhanders, says it will appeal against Judge Ivo Rosa’s decision while a public petition calling for the judge’s removal has already gained 120,000 signatures.
The authors of the petition state that the judge made “judicial errors that were prejudicial to the State”.
The spokesperson for the petition, Vítor Miranda Neves is calling for the “immediate removal of the judge from the entire magistrature because he does not have “the profile, rigour or impartiality” to carry out his position.
The document has been sent to Ferro Rodrigues, the legal ombudsman and the chairman of the Supreme Court of Justice, António Joaquim Piçarra, stating also that Ivo Rosa has made consecutive harmful judicial errors and stresses that the judge’s conduct has already been called into question various times by the Public Ministry, allegedly for violating laws.
It is not the first time that the petitioner has brought a petition against Ivo Rosa. In 2010, the judge has absolved the so-called Multibanco gang. That decision was overturned by the Court of Appeal which ordered a rerun of the case which saw six of the 13 legal defendants found guilty as charged.
The former prime minister said after the case that the judge had put an end to all the “lies” that had been levelled at him in recent years. Of the 31 crimes that were imputed to him by the Public Ministry, José Sócrates will stand trial for six crimes: three for money laundering and three for falsifying documents.
“All of the big lies from the prosecution fell down today. I was imprisoned over accusations that all have all fallen here,” said Sócrates as he left Lisbon’s Campus de Justiça after heating the judge’s decision.
Also involved in the case were some of the nation’s biggest business players over the past 20 yeas including Ricardo Salgado, Henrique Granadeiro (a business tycoon and one-time president of Portugal Telecom), Carlos Santos Silva (a close friend of Sócrates with links to the Lena construction group), Zeinal Bava (former CEO of Portugal Telecom and Oi), Armando Vara (a former vice-president of BCP bank) and 20 other “arguidos” or legal suspects.
Ivo Rosa decided to throw out the accusations of crimes of corruption. On allegations surrounding building contracts for 50,000 houses in Venezuela, the judge said there was no proof to sustain the accusation that Sócrates had had inside knowledge of the terms of the cooperation agreement signed between Portugal and Venezuela.
On accusations of receiving bribes in order to favour a construction company (Grupo Lena) to undertake works for Portugal’s schools, the judge said there was no subjective evidence in the choice of the contract winner.
On accusations over the high-speed rail link TGV, the judge remembered that all of the witnesses’ evidence did not stand up or prove that the former prime minister had interfered in the contract tender process (the TGV plan was shelved because of the 2011 Sovereign Debt Crisis) by favouring one contractor or another.
The judge also threw out the accusation that the banker Ricardo Salgado of BES had greased the palms of José Sócrates with around €12 million which had later allegedly been transferred to and from an account held by the ex-prime minister’s long-standing friend Carlos Santos Silva. The money was to supposedly give Ricardo Salgado a free hand in business deals involving Portugal Telecom from which it was alleged that the banker had received around €8.4Bn between 2001 and 2014.
Either because the time limit to bring a charge had run out, or because there was a lack of evidence, José Sócrates ended up by not being sent to trial for any of the allegations of passive corruption that he had been accused of.
“Something unique happened here today. All the big lies from the prosecution have been thrown out,” he told journalists. “The accusation of the hidden fortune is a lie” he said after the hearing. “The accusation of corruption is a lie, the accusation of a link with Ricardo Salgado is a complete lie. Everything has collapsed,” he said.
The story began when José Sócrates, who was Portugal’s prime minister from 2005-2011, was arrested at Lisbon airport on charges of corruption, tax evasion and money laundering in November 2014.
Sócrates then spent almost a year in prison and under house arrest before being released on bail towards the end of 2015. The former prime minister has always denied the allegations, explaining away the millions that passed through his bank accounts as “loans from friends”.