Calls to close seven driving schools after 131 cited in major licence fraud

The Public Ministry is calling for the closure of seven driving schools as a result of an elaborate alleged fraud which it claims has seen licences ‘bought’ by scores, if not hundreds, of ‘pupils’ for as much as €5,000 a pop.

So far, 131 people have been made ‘arguidos’ (official suspects) in Operation Megahertz.

Among them are said to be eight Automobile Club examiners, six driving school instructors, an engineer in charge of ‘controlling’ exams, a young football player with Porto FC, a fireman, a cruise-ship commander and a racehorse trainer.

The scheme appears to have been designed to ‘help’ people who were having difficulties passing the written Highway Code exam on their own.

A number of those now bound over to appear before magistrates had failed the test several times.

But the ‘sophistication’ of the scheme appears to have been its undoing.

Candidates were fitted with micro-cameras “hidden on their shirt buttons” designed to transmit images that appeared on exam monitors via smartphones to people with the answers outside.

Ear-pieces were an integral part of the process, but the difficulty in transmitting complete images saw candidates resorting to standing on chairs, moving theatrically from side to side, and fellow examinees sitting the test without resorting to bungs started suspecting foul play.

National tabloid Correio da Manhã explains examiners themselves were paid handsomely to turn a blind eye to all the shenanigans.

The fraud goes back to 2013 at least, and prosecutors are aware they may not have identified all the beneficiaries.

For the time being, the two alleged ring-leaders – a father and son – are pleading innocence.

The ACP (Automobile Club) however is “co-operating fully” with investigators and has already suspended all the examiners currently saddled with arguido status.

The driving schools involved are in Gondomar, Maia and Trofa.

An estimated total for the money ‘gleaned’ through the scam is €650,000, says CM, though this is very possibly “on the low side”.

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