Arrests follow navy corruption investigation .jpg

Arrests follow navy corruption investigation

Three naval officers were arrested at their homes in Lisbon on charges of corruption last Wednesday (September 27). The Judicial Police (PJ) suspect that a sergeant and two lieutenant-colonels accepted hundreds of thousands of euros in bribes from Cinave, a private US aeronautic company, in exchange for the contract to maintain and supply the weapons on three navy frigates. The president of the company was also arrested, along with one other officer.

Many parts on warships need constant maintenance, particularly the onboard missiles. Some are composed of materials with a short life-span and need to be replaced periodically. The US based company was in charge of ensuring the Harpoon and Seasparrow missiles, as well as the cannons functioned properly at all times, of which the navy possesses 20 and 50 respectively. The Seasparrow and the Harpoon are aerial defence missiles that allow ships to react quickly in the event of an attack from helicopters and planes.

The mammoth operation required the assistance of 70 members of the Direcção Central de Investigação da Corrupção e Criminalidade Económica e Financeira, department of central investigation of corruption and economic and financial crime. The investigation involved phone taps and required the assistance of nine magistrates from the Public Ministry.

The PJ discovered that a meeting was scheduled to take place on September 27 between the company and the naval officers. The PJ searched the officers’ homes, Navy headquarters and Cinave’s offices, where documents were confiscated as part of the investigation. Because there was a great deal of sensitive and top secret information held at the headquarters, a judge accompanied the police to ensure all the information gathering was acquired legally.

The investigation began, following numerous anonymous phone calls to the Procurator-General. The callers made vague references to various contracts in the armed forces being illegal but never specified the navy in particular, which is why the investigation has taken so long to complete: other bodies in the armed forces were also being investigated.

Under the former Military Justice Code, the investigation and subsequent arrests would not have been made by the PJ. The matter would have been within the jurisdiction of the Military Police. Today, members of the armed forces are tried under ‘normal’ law unless the nature of the crime is strictly military.

The five arrested men were interrogated at the Tribunal de Instrução Criminal, criminal instruction court, in Lisbon. Judge Ana Cristina Guerreiro da Silva ordered lieutenant-colonel Clélio Dinis Ferreira Leite to be taken to the military prison in Tomar.

Lieutenant-colonel António José Dionísio and Sergeant Manuel Tiago Andrade de Sousa were released, but have been suspended from active duty pending the investigation. William Burke from Cinave and André Canto e Castro from Ortsac, a company representing the manufacture of arms, were released with bail set at 300,000 and 75,000 euros respectively. They were also ordered to present themselves at a police station once a week.

The navy released a statement guaranteeing the authorities its full support in the investigation and those responsible would be punished. A court date has yet to be set for lieutenant-colonel Clélio Dinis Ferreira Leite’s trial, but information related to the investigation is still being processed.