José Artur Neves political career was cut short by this scandal that now appears not to have evidence of his criminal involvement. Image: Tiago Petinga/ Lusa

Charges dropped: another major wobble in corruption case involving government members

Former Secretary of State for Civil Protection walks free, after years under suspicion

Public prosecutors have admitted they don’t have any evidence to maintain charges against former Secretary of State for Civil Protection José Artur Neves.

As Mr Neves walked free from Lisbon’s Central Criminal Court, his lawyer said the result stood as “further clear proof that the Public Prosecutor’s Office is rushing too often and too intensely“.

While most readers will forget the case involving Mr Neves (see below), they will be acutely aware of the latest ‘corruption round-up’ of suspects, which brought down the absolute majority Socialist government, and led to president Marcelo calling early elections in March next year.

That investigation blasted into the headlines in November, billed as one of corruption and cronyism, only to see a pre-trial judge throw out all the corruption charges, and release the five suspects (two of which public prosecutors wanted kept in preventive custody).

Today, the prime minister’s former chief of staff Vítor Escária is appealing the terms of his bail (see separate story) on the basis that they are null and void; also ‘in court’ after years of legal to-ing and fro-ing is former economy minister Manuel Pinho, arguing the case against him is equally flawed. Thus, the ‘feeling in the air’ is indeed that justice in Portugal is not what it should be.

But back to José Artur Neves, whose political career was cut short on the basis of allegations that have ended up in the wastebin.

“Smoke free snoods”: this was a fairly shambolic case involving kits distributed to communities, to help protect citizens in the case of fire. It transpired that the snoods (designed to protect people’s noses and mouths against smoke inhalation) were highly flammable. “Just one spark” could have left the person wearing one of these snoods with a nasty burn.

Firefighters were the first to notice the danger, and then it was a question of joining dots.

In the furore, government sources argued (rather ridiculously) that the kits were never meant to be protective, but more ‘information material’. But prosecutors erred more towards indications that there may have been crimes of economic participation in business, diversion of EU subsidies and general collusion and abuse of power.

The case admittedly was just one of the scandals weathered by PS Socialists in recent years, but was all over the papers in 2019/ 20, and saw various ‘casualties’ forced to step down/ aside. Now, it transpires, the accusations could be fatally flawed.

Prosecutor David Aguilar said he could not see “anything in the case file that shows against the defendant José Neves.” 

But he added that the emails seized, “the tight deadlines” set for the public tenders involved and the invoices issued for services rendered before the contracts that would justify them were signed confirm that the public procurement process was a simulated process to legally frame access to funds for procedures already underway, established through “informal contacts” with private companies.

So the case is continuing, albeit for the moment without José Neves.

Say reports, “for the Public Prosecutor’s Office, there is “undeniable” damage to the State’s assets in this process (…) the investigation identified “illegalities with criminal relevance in various public procurement procedures” within the scope of the “Safe Village – Safe People” programme, which was co-financed by the Cohesion Fund, considering that it caused losses to the State in the amount of €364,980 euros, allegedly diverted in favour of the defendants.

For now there are 18 defendants remaining in the case, including former president of Civil Protection Authority ANEPC, General Carlos Mourato Nunes. ND

Source material: SIC/ Lusa