Portugal’s ex-prime minister and 293 others accused of squirrelling away fortunes worth millions
A total of 294 tax payers including former Socialist prime minister José Sócrates stand accused of hiding fortunes from the Portuguese tax authorities in Switzerland.
Both individuals and companies are suspected of having used a capital laundering scheme to illicitly hide money overseas from the Portuguese tax authorities according to the investigative newspaper Correio da Manhã.
José Sócrates, Álvaro Sobrinho, José Paulo Pinto de Sousa and Duarte Lima are just some of the names which used a scheme devised by a money changer known as ‘Zé das Medalhas’ (Medallion Man Zé).
According to data from the Public Ministry which is part of a police investigation called Operation Monte Branco, the money changer had a list of 294 clients, 145 names of which had money hidden in offshore companies.
The scheme allegedly transferred the monies from Swiss accounts under the name of Sed Real Estate and Cadu to Portugal from 2008 and 2011.
Operation Monte Branco is an ongoing criminal and tax evasion investigation by the Portuguese judicial and police authorities into one of the largest money laundering and tax fraud networks ever detected in Portugal, based at the Montenegro Chaves currency exchange in Lisbon.
Francisco Canas (‘Ze das Medalhas’) was the main defendant in the case. He died in 2017 but investigators had already begun analysing a long list of his clients.
The prosecution’s case focused on the list of Canas’ customers at his money exchange shop in Lisbon. Canas acted as an intermediary for three former UBS managers who sent funds abroad via the wealth management company, Akoya.
Among the clients were Duarte Lima – who had been charged with fraud and murder in other cases, a former Benfica president Manuel Vilarinho and José Carlos Gonçalves, a builder.
Canas used his accounts at BPN Cape Verde and BCP in Portugal to shuffle his clients’ money between Portugal and Switzerland. Some clients went to the money exchange in Lisbon’s downtown Baixa area with bags of cash to be laundered.
The wealth management company involved in this huge laundering operation, Akoya, was owned 22.5% each by former BES-Angola head, Álvaro Sobrinho and ESCOM (A Espírito Santo Group company) chief, Hélder Bataglia.
However, earlier this year the Portuguese public and media were outraged after a court cleared former prime minister, José Sócrates on corruption charges.
But the court did open the way for him to stand trial for the money laundering and document falsifying charges.
Sócrates is accused of pocketing €34 million from three companies while he was in power between 2005 and 2011. He maintains his innocence as does the chairman of the former BES banking group, Ricardo Salgado whose doctors say he cannot stand trial because he is suffering from dementia.