Charles Smith denies having paid Sócrates

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

British businessman Charles Smith allegedly told British police investigating the Freeport Case that he never paid backhanders to José Sócrates in 2002 in return for planning permission for Europe’s largest retail factory outlet near Lisbon.

According to weekly Portuguese newspaper Expresso on Saturday, Charles Smith was questioned four times by the Serious Fraud Office between January and July 2007 and admitted that he had “made up the story that Prime Minister José Sócrates, then Minister for the Environment, had received a bribe via a cousin.”

He said he had made the story up as a way of “putting pressure on Freeport bosses to pay up monies that the company allegedly owed him”.

The Scottish businessman, a former associate at consultants Smith & Pedro, was heard by a team of lawyers and British investigative police.

The lawyers concluded that there had “not been any suspicious transactions” but considered Charles Smith’s story “unconvincing” and so passed on their doubts and information to the police.

Charles Smith has accepted defamation of character in his original deposition and hopes that by admitting he had not, in fact, bribed the Portuguese Prime Minister, he will not face charges of active corruption.

In Sunday’s Diário de Notícias, it was reported that a team of Portuguese Ministério Público magistrates and Polícia Judiciária police investigators had left for the United Kingdom to analyse dossiers of evidence compiled by the British police.

They joined a group of Portuguese tax inspectors from the Finanças who had already been in the UK for a week investigating the movement of Freeport money to Portugal via offshore accounts.

They will also analyse statements made by Charles Smith to decide if he had lied over his accusations about José Sócrates having received bribery payments as is suggested in a DVD recording by former Freeport director Alan Perkins and Charles Smith.

Charles Smith and his former business associate Manuel Pedro are the only official suspects so far in the Freeport Case which began to be investigated by Portuguese police in Setúbal in 2005.