By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
A five-year legal investigation in the United Kingdom and Portugal into alleged corruption, traffic of influence and backhander payments over the planning permission of the Freeport Retail Outlet near Lisbon is coming to an end.
The British police and judicial authorities seem likely to shelve the case from their end and have already dropped their investigations into the business activities of Scottish businessman Charles Smith with regards to Freeport’s fast-track planning permission in 2002.
Charles Smith, who is one of several ‘arguidos’ on legal suspects in Portugal, is likely to issue an official statement in London at the beginning of December.
The Algarve Resident tried to contact Charles Smith but was unable to obtain a comment.
With Scotland Yard’s decision to drop the case against Smith, who was one of two partners in the now defunct consultancy company Smith & Pedro, it is left to the Portuguese authorities to continue their investigations into the case alone.
The case concerns the planning permission, granted in record time, for the now-American owned designer label factory retail outlet at Alcochete on the south banks of the River Tejo, on the boundaries of European Union protected estuary wetlands – home to many rare and endangered migrating bird species.
It is claimed that former Freeport directors arranged envelopes of cash to pay bribes to nature conservation agency chiefs, local government bigwigs and, it has been alleged, the Prime Minister José Sócrates when he was Minister for the Environment, during the António Guterres government, which collapsed days after planning permission was granted in 2002.
The Central Department of Investigation and Penal Action, the country’s main criminal investigation and prosecution agency, is expected to make its final report within weeks and either move forward with official prosecutions or shelve the case for lack of evidence.
According to the Public Ministry’s Chief Prosecutor, the final report should be issued at the start of next year at the very latest.
Apart from Charles Smith, the Portuguese authorities and Serious Fraud Office have also been investigating Sean Collidge, ex-President of the Freeport Group, former directors Gary Russell, Jonathan Rawnsley and Rick Dattani and consultant William Mckinney Junior.
Insufficient evidence has been collected by the British authorities to pursue the case from the United Kingdom side.