By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
British businessman and resident of the Algarve, Charles Smith, and consultant Manuel Pedro are the latest to be cross examined by a Lisbon criminal court investigating the alleged payment of backhanders to influential figures in return for planning permission for Europe’s largest factory outlet retail park at Alcochete in 2002.
Charles Smith, formerly of consultants Smith & Pedro, was questioned on February 18 at the Central Department of Criminal Investigation, DCIAP, as a defending witness in the scandal which has involved the Prime Minister José Socrates, then Minister for the Environment under the António Guterres government.
After leaving the criminal court, the lawyers acting on their behalf made a short statement in which they said that both had been heard as “defending witnesses” (arguidos) which means that they must register their address with the police and cannot leave the country without first gaining permission from the authorities.
Both Smith and Pedro, who were partners in a consultancy which carried out various projects for the Freeport project during its planning phase, did not comment to the press because they are, according to their lawyer Paula Lourenço, “subject to secrecy by law.”
The Freeport Case revolves around suspected corruption, in that figures at the highest level deliberately and illegally altered the boundaries of a European Union designated Special Protected Wildlife Zone (Zona de Protecção Especial do Estuário do Tejo) on the River Tejo which harbours many rare birds and fish.
It is alleged that the then directors of Freeport Plc made available several million pounds to grease the palms of those involved in the planning process which was decided in favour of Freeport Plc just three days before the then PS government lost the elections in 2002.
The Procurator-General of the Republic, the highest prosecutor in the land, Pinto Monteiro, said in Madeira on Monday that “all necessary people involved in the case “would be heard in order to get to the bottom of the scandal, including José Socrates’ cousin Hugo Monteiro who is currently in China.
He also said that he would not be bullied or intimidated from any quarters over the case stating that people knew him well enough to know that he was “a tough nut to crack”.
Hugo Monteiro said he would cooperate fully with the authorities while his father, businessman Júlio Monteiro, José Socrates’ uncle, has already been questioned by a court in Cascais but has not, so far, been made a defendant in the case.
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