A court in Sintra has handed out suspended jail sentences to two GNR officers in Mem Martins and a policeman of the PSP from Reboleira, after they were found guilty of corruption charges. The officers concerned apparently received bribes in exchange for passing information to illegal gaming operators about the timing of ‘random’ police checks. The only defendant to be jailed was a businessman, who received a four and a half year jail term.
“Financial necessity was
The judge gave suspended sentences to three policemen, describing them as “socially integrated individuals” who had acted out of “financial necessity”. At the time of the detentions in 2002, the defendants concerned received 875 euros a month in wages – each of the accused was also illegally supplementing their income with around 400 euros in illicit bribes.
The presiding judge in charge, Rute Sabino, said the following circumstances had to be considered: “There was the gravity of the charges but also the remorse of the defendants… their lack of previous convictions and also financial necessity, all of which considerably mitigated their guilt.”
Sabino concluded that the best punishment for the three men accused was a two-year suspended jail sentence, a decision that has surprised some observers. Statute books envisage sentences of anywhere between one and eight years for corruption and what is known as ‘personal favouritism’, i.e. warning businessmen about the timing of police operations.
The authorities also took action against various restaurants that possessed illegal gaming machines. The investigation began in June 2002 under the title of ‘Operation Dirty Game’. Raids were conducted on homes, businesses and shops and dozens of illegal fruit machines were seized.
The three agents concerned have already returned to work, after being suspended during the investigation and the trial. Rumours are circulating that more prosecutions could ensue involving other businessmen who have paid officers to be warned in advance about police visits.
Is poor pay
The recent court case adds to the list of police officers brought to trial on corruption charges. Some observers allege that poor pay is the reason for the growing number of cases, prompting a discussion in society about whether poverty is an extenuating factor for crime.
Baptista Coelho, president of the Portuguese Union of Portuguese Judges, offers a perspective on the matter: “An individual who robs in order to eat is still committing a crime, but perhaps he had some mitigating circumstances compared to a person who leads a very comfortable life. I do not want to say that it justifies it, but it is more understandable. Aside from the factors in the crime, the court must be satisfied that a particular defendant had financial problems.”
Coelho did not wish to speak about the details of the particular case in question but did comment on the wider issue of police dishonesty: “As a matter of principle, a policeman has to be above any kind of personal suspicion,” he says.
Article 71 of the Portuguese Penal Code does make clear that a judge, before deciding a jail term for a felon, must weigh up various factors. Most important of these is, obviously, the exact nature of the crime but other considerations must include motive, personal circumstances (emotional and financial), previous conduct and an individual’s ability to adequately ‘cope’ with a normal life.