“Caught by surprise”: Local politicians react to arrest of Vila Real de Santo António Mayor Conceição Cabrita

“Utter bewilderment” seems to be the reaction of many local politicians to the news that Vila Real de Santo António Mayor Conceição Cabrita (PSD) had been arrested on suspicion on corruption (click here).

The bombshell news came on Tuesday morning when the mayor was arrested by PJ police as she left her home for work.

Cabrita was one of four people detained due to their suspected involvement in an “illegal property deal” in Monte Gordo. A “public administration worker”, said to be a council worker, and two entrepreneurs were also arrested. All four are “aged between 50 and 70”, the police force said.

Meanwhile, TVI reports that PS MP António Gameiro is also suspected of corruption linked to the same deal. He is believed to have acted as the ‘middle-man’ in the deal. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has reportedly asked for his parliamentary immunity to be lifted so that he can also be named an official suspect (arguido).

The arrests and searches are part of a nationwide PJ criminal police investigation called ‘Operação Triângulo’.

Around 20 searches were carried out in the Algarve, Lisbon, Leiria and Ourém, including searches at VRSA town hall, several company headquarters and the houses of those involved, including the mayor’s.

“Under investigations are suspicions of illicit acts committed by a politician, who benefitted from the collaboration of workers, as well as other players, in the intermediation of the sale of a council-owned property at Monte Gordo beach,” the police force said.

It added that the suspected foul play could constitute “crimes of corruption, receipt of improper advantage and abuse of power”.

Diário de Notícias reports that the proposal to sell the property, located in front of Hotel Vasco da Gama, to a company for around €5.6 million was approved by the municipal assembly in April 2020, with PSD voting in favour and PS and CDU against it.

The council reportedly wanted to receive 50% of the sum ‘up front’, and the remainder when the projects for the land were completed.

Adds DN, the goal was to develop housing, commercial establishments and other services, and an underground carpark on the plot.

Further details about the suspected foul play have not yet been revealed.

But those who know Cabrita have trouble believing she could be a part of something like this.

“I don’t see her getting involved in such a scheme,” Desidério Silva, former Algarve tourism boss and former Albufeira mayor, now running again for the Albufeira office, told Sábado magazine.

He even went as far as to say: “Quase que metia as mãos no fogo por ela” – literally translated into English, it means putting your hands in fire for someone, although colloquially it means having utter faith in someone.

Former Algarve MP Mendes Bota has also come to Cabrita’s defence, claiming that he has “never heard any mention about strange schemes at VRSA Council”.

Sábado reports it spoke to several politicians, both social-democrats (PSD) and socialists (PS), in the Algarve, and all echoed the same “disbelief”.

A source from PSD Algarve said Cabrita has the “profile of a parish council president, but in a good way”, adding that she was always very “open, humble and ready to help”.

A source from PS Algarve said she was viewed by most as “someone who was trying to fill the holes left by Luís Gomes”, the borough’s previous mayor.
Vila Real de Santo António is one of the country’s most cash-strapped councils, having approved in 2020 a proposal to boost the financial aid it is receiving up to €101 million, explains Sábado.

Conceição Cabrita was elected as a councillor at VRSA council in 2005, having served as deputy mayor from 2013 to 2017 when she was elected mayor.

However, Cabrita had already announced that she would not be running for re-election in this year’s local elections as she wanted to spend more time with her family.

michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com