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BPN fraud finally ‘jails’ culprits – all of whom remain scott-free

Sentencing 12 of the 15 defendants to jail terms after a trial that has dragged on for over six years, judge Luís Ribeiro has dubbed the BPN bank debacle “the biggest fraud in the history of Portuguese justice”. Yet not one of the guilty 12 will be going to prison any time soon.

For a start, eight were handed ‘suspended sentences’ – and those considered most responsible will be taking advantage of the judicial process that ensures that (usually wealthy) defendants remain free until they have exhausted all forms of appeal.

In the case of 81-year-old former BPN president José Oliveira da Costa – handed a 14-year sentence but reportedly too frail following surgery to attend the seven-hour court reading yesterday – this means he can look forward to many more years ahead of him of litigation.

Says national tabloid Correio da Manhã, “as the sentence is more than seven years, the former banker can, apart from appealing to the court of appeal, present appeals to the Supreme Court of Justice over questions of Law, as well as to the Constitutional Tribunal”.

Each step implies long ‘delays’. As the paper illustrates in another high-profile fraud case that saw all key figures appealing, “just the decision of the first court to the court of appeal took two and a half years”.

Equally, Oliveira da Costa could play the ‘advanced age and deteriorating health’ card and “ask for a modification of his sentence”, says CM.

Considering yesterday was all about punishing “the greatest fraud in Portuguese history”, the end result has been something of an anti-climax.

True, €1.4 million seized by the State from Oliveira da Costa can now be duly appropriated, but considering the bank’s €3 billion collapse prompted a State bailout that contributed to the successive woes of the troika years, there is the distinct feeling that fraud has somehow still emerged the victor.

BPN IN A NUTSHELL

It goes so far back, is so full of lies and big names and is so utterly dirty that most Portuguese have forgotten the basics:

Oliveira da Costa – found guilty of qualified fraud, money-laundering, fiscal fraud and document falsification – “abandoned” his presidency of the bank in 2008, citing health reasons. It was shortly afterwards that the extent of fraud in his “strategy of investing in various sectors of activity, including cement and polymers” (Wikipedia) in Africa and Brazil started bobbing to the surface, exposing billion euro holes.

In June 2008, former finance minister Miguel Cadilhe ordered an investigation, having publicly alluded to “various financial crimes committed by high-ranking members” of the bank’s former administration.

The case then got into murky political waters, throwing up figures “like the then President of the Republic Cavaco Silva, some of his PSD allies and even some members of the Socialist Party”, adds Wikipedia – all of whom “had maintained personal, professional and business relationships with Oliveira da Costa and the bank over the years”.

Entering the rogue’s gallery by default, José Sócrates – then prime minister – came into the picture, nationalised the bank and quickly saw it “incorporated into CGD”, the country’s wheezing State Bank before it was sold to Angolan Banco BIC four years later.

The toxicity of BPN’s fallout has basically stalked the Portuguese financial sector ever since – but now it looks like everyone responsible will play judicial trump cards to the bitter end.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com