Pre-trial closing arguments hear victims “want to believe there is still time” for justice
The defence counsel of around 1,600 victims of the collapse of Banco Espírito Santo (nearly nine years ago) called today for the largest compensation payment in the history of Portuguese justice.
Nuno Silva Vieira stressed there is every hope, on his side, that all 25 defendants in this tortuous case will be sent for trial.
“Nothing that has been gathered, contradicted or presented here undermines the sufficient evidence, which determines not a reasonable probability that defendants will be sentenced, but a very high probability of conviction”, he said, referring to submissions during this pre-trial phase which began last year.
“Victims want to believe that there may still be time” to be compensated, he said, calling for the adoption of preventive measures, such as the guarantee of an immediate sale of seized assets “which are perishing”, with the proceeds of this operation to be reserved for the injured parties entitled to compensation.
This is a process that has taken an agonisingly long time to reach a courtroom. Referring to the fact that prosecutors opposed the granting of victim status to the injured parties, Silva Vieira cited Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman, who claimed that the pain of losing money could be “a pain equivalent to physical pain”. He stressed that many victims expressed that they “would rather have been raped by the defendants than have lost their life savings and their family dignity” because, had they been raped, their recognition as victims would have been immediate.
“Victims are not ignorant people who have been deceived and therefore deserve to be trampled on and consigned to the background. Victims are people who have suffered both pecuniary and non-pecuniary damages. Justice must give an effective response and, once again, it must be exemplary,” he said, concluding: “This chapter should be closed with an exemplary indictment, which we are sure will be handed down”.
Considered one of the largest and most complex cases in the history of Portuguese justice, the BES/GES dossier brings together 242 inquiries, which have been joined, and complaints from more than 300 people, individuals and companies living in Portugal and abroad.
According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, whose indictment runs to around 4,000 pages, the collapse of the Espírito Santo Group (GES) in 2014 caused losses of more than €11.8 billion. The greatest losses for small investors came in the form of ‘commercial paper’ which was not transferred to the ‘good bank’ to emerge from the collapse, Novo Banco.
But there are huge questions over the future of this case, due principally to the failing health of the ‘principal defendant’, former BES ‘boss’ Ricardo Salgado.
Salgado’s lawyers paint a pitiful picture of the man who was once one of the most powerful movers and shakers in the country. Alzheimer’s disease has left him “incapable of realising the most basic tasks: “taking medication alone, feeding himself , even caring for his own personal hygiene”. There has been a “worsening of his state of memory” recently, he has balance issues, and suffers from incontinence. “He has not the capacity to defend himself in court”, says his defence team.
If the principal defendant, facing 65 crimes, including criminal association, active corruption, qualified fraud, market manipulation, money laundering and document falsification, cannot be tried, it could be very difficult for the case to go forwards against his alleged associates, most of them charged with lesser crimes.
This pre-trial phase is closing in on the final strait. Defence arguments are still to be heard – and only then will a date be known for Judge Pedro Correia to come to his decision over whether or not this most complex of cases will actually be sent for trial.