Altice telecoms scandal cost Portuguese State ‘millions’

State news agency lays out key points of ‘Operation Picoas’

On a day when former chairman of Altice Portugal demanded full clarification of the facts, saying he is “completely unaware of what has been publicly reported“, State news agency Lusa has presented a newcomer’s guide to the Altice telecoms scandal.

With the headline: “Telecom scandal cost the State, Altice ‘millions’ – main points”, Lusa launches into a detailed explanation:

Portugal’s ‘Operation Picoas’ has revealed over the past week an alleged financial scam surrounding Altice, owner of the former Portugal Telecom (PT), which is said to have cost the State and the business group hundreds of millions of euros.

The main target in this case, Altice co-founder Armando Pereira, was scheduled to start being heard by a judge today (Tuesday), but the questioning is now only expected to begin on Wednesday.

Here are some of the key points of this three-year investigation, which point to suspected offences of corruption in the private sector, tax fraud, money laundering and forgery.

Public Prosecutor’s suspicions

The Central Department of Investigation and Criminal Action (DCIAP) of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, in collaboration with the Tax Authority, launched an operation with about 90 home and non-home searches on July 13, which covered the premises of companies and law firms in various parts of the country, resulting in three detainees (Armando Pereira being one) and the seizure of documents and luxury vehicles valued at around €20 million.

The Public Prosecutor’s Office believes that there has been a “vitiation (meaning corruption) of the decision-making process of the Altice Group, in terms of contracting, with practices harmful to the companies of that group and to competition”, which points to active and passive private corruption. The Portuguese State has also been harmed by tax fraud “in excess of €100 million”, while there are indications of “abusive use of the reduced taxation applied in terms of company tax in the Madeira Free Zone” through the fictitious tax domiciliation of people and companies, to which is added the suspicion of the use of offshore companies, indicating crimes of money laundering and forgery.

 Armando Pereira’s influence

Altice co-founder Armando Pereira, who was detained following the searches on July 13, is allegedly the leader of a scheme that, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, will have cost the State and Altice hundreds of millions of euros through the involvement of dozens of companies indirectly controlled by his trusted man, Hernâni Vaz Antunes.

Pereira allegedly used his influence in the group to control the hiring decisions of suppliers, who would allegedly also have to hire services from companies controlled by Vaz Antunes to obtain contracts with Altice.

Armando Pereira’s influence was also realised in the sale of Altice properties in Lisbon, which were sold to companies in Hernâni Vaz Antunes’ orbit at values well below the subsequent resale price, with capital gains of several million euros.

Other defendants

Jéssica Antunes, Álvaro Gil Loureiro and Hernâni Vaz Antunes are the other defendants in “Operation Picoas”. 

Jéssica Antunes, daughter of Hernâni Vaz Antunes and identified by the Public Prosecutor’s Office as her father’s ‘front (wo)man’ in several companies, was the first to make statements to Judge Carlos Alexandre, at the Central Criminal Investigation Court, between Saturday and Monday.

The interrogation continued with Álvaro Gil Loureiro, an economist who has links to several companies associated with the businesses around Altice and which are also linked to Hernâni Vaz Antunes.

Hernâni Vaz Antunes, known as Armando Pereira’s ‘right-hand man’, was among the targets of the operation but was not located on July 13. He only presented himself at a PSP police station in Porto on Saturday night. He has remained in police custody, awaiting his interrogation. He is suspected of obtaining million-euro commissions in various businesses and of placing ‘front men (and possibly women)’ in companies for supply contracts to Altice.

Searches at Altice Portugal HQ and the internal investigation of the group

One of the focuses of last week’s searches was the headquarters of Altice Portugal, in Picoas (Lisbon), with authorities suspecting the company has been harmed in several business transactions. 

After an official source from the company assured complete collaboration with the investigation, the group announced an internal investigation on July 14 related to purchasing processes and the processes of acquisition and sale of real estate belonging to (Altice Portugal), as well as to the wider group.

With immediate effect, and until further notice, the Altice group has asked its subsidiaries to suspend any payments to entities targeted by the investigation; to suspend any new purchase orders (individual or part of a master agreement) with these entities”; and that “the group’s approval process for any purchase orders be strengthened”, the company said in a statement.

 Alexandre Fonseca’s suspension from group duties 

Yesterday, Monday, July 17, Patrick Drahi’s Altice Group announced that Altice Europe’s co-CEO Alexandre Fonseca had suspended his duties as part of the group’s executive and non-executive corporate management activities, including his positions as chairman of Altice Portugal and Altice USA.

Alexandre Fonseca was CEO of the Portuguese subsidiary during the period associated with the ‘Operation Picoas’ investigation and, although not yet accused, is being investigated for possible undue receipt of an advantage over the purchase of a house in Barcarena from a company owned by Hernâni Vaz Antunes, a residence that was also the target of searches last Thursday.