By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
A former British consultant who has been made a suspect in a multi-million euro bribery case in Portugal has allegedly handed over damning evidence to Portuguese police and magistrates.
Charles Smith, formerly of Smith & Pedro Associates, who is a suspect in the Freeport case, handed over an incriminating fax to the Polícia Judiciária, according to a Portuguese national newspaper, which allegedly proves traffic of influence and bribery in exchange for fast-tracked planning permission for Europe’s largest factory outlet shopping park at Alcochete in 2002.
The controversial case, which seemingly involves millions of euros in back-handers, sweeteners and bribes from Freeport Plc, has dominated the pages of Portuguese national newspapers in recent weeks and has implicated key political figures including the Prime Minister José Socrates who strongly denies any involvement in the imbroglio.
The document in question, which has been now handed over to the criminal magistrate authority investigating the allegations, the Departamento de Investigação e Acção Penal (DCIAP), is said to have been sent by law firm Gandarez & Antunes and allegedly demands the payment of four million euros in exchange for planning permission for the development only weeks before the fall of the then socialist PS António Guterres government.
The request, it is reported, was made in December 2001, initially via a telephone call and then formally via a fax sent to Smith & Pedro.
According to Sunday’s Correio de Manhã, the first telephone contact had been made only days before the project had been turned down by the Ministry of the Environment for the second time because it lay within the boundaries of a European Union recognised and Portuguese protected natural wetland wildlife reserve on the River Tejo.
The lawyers, it is alleged, initially proposed a resolution to the planning permission problem in exchange for 10 million euros which was later negotiated down to six million euros.
Smith has insisted to the authorities in his statements that he later asked the same lawyers (Gandarez & Antunes) to formalise their request in writing.
Charles Smith and Manuel Pedro are then said to have contacted Freeport in the United Kingdom and passed on the message that they could ensure planning permission for the retail park without having to pay such huge sums.
Even so, they said the company would have to pay advances of 50,000 to 60,000 euros of an unspecified total sum which should be paid in parcels.
José Socrates’ nephew, Hugo Monteiro, who allegedly sent an e-mail to Smith & Pedro with regards to the legalisation of the project, has yet to be heard by the examining magistrates and is in China.
According to statements made at a Cascais court in February by his father Júlio Monteiro, who is José Socrates’ uncle and who has not been implicated in the case, Promoter Hugo Monteiro had a meeting with Freeport directors at the time to present a proposal to promote Freeport at Alcochete, but stated at the court that neither he nor his son had ever been used to put influence on or arrange a meeting with José Socrates.
When questioned by the authorities, Charles Smith insisted that he had complained about alleged pressure put on his consultancy by the law firm Gandarez & Antunes to Júlio Monteiro.
The Polícia Judiciária in Setúbal, it is said, has sent a detailed report of their investigations into the case so far to the National Headquarters of the PJ in Lisbon, where they have been locked in a safe to avoid information leaks to the press.
José Socrates was then the Minister for the Environment for the PS government whose ministry passed the planning permission after having rejected it twice.
Charles Smith was questioned twice in one week by the Polícia Judiciária in Setúbal at the end of February and beginning of March this year.
The Algarve Resident tried several times this week to contact Charles Smith for a comment but he was not answering calls.