Court convicts 18

AFTER SEVERAL delays, the corruption trial, involving 25 guards from Albufeira transport brigade who rocked Portugal and disgraced the GNR service, was finally concluded last week. The hearings began more than a year ago, on October 15 2003, and 41 court sessions later, 10 GNR officers and eight businessmen have been found guilty.

The ‘ringleader’ of the corrupt cops, Sergeant Joaquim Garcia, was given nine and a half years in prison, with other sentences handed down ranging from between 18 months and three years. Sá Correia, Garcia’s lawyer, has already announced he will be appealing against the sentence.

Due to the number of defendants and lawyers involved in the trial, finding a suitable venue for the court hearings proved difficult. The final trial session had initially been due to take place on October 4 at Albufeira’s municipal theatre, but, embarrassingly, the venue was double booked with pupils from a local school attending a children’s theatre production.

Of the 35 defendants, 15 guards and two businessmen were absolved of any wrongdoing. Of the eight businessmen sentenced to two and a half years for active corruption, seven will have their sentences suspended for a three-year period and be asked to pay 25,000 euros to a charitable institution.

The corruption activities involved GNR guards taking money, gifts and petrol from civil construction companies to turn a blind eye to misdemeanours involving the transport of building materials. Investigators became suspicious of the corrupt cops when some of the GNR guards involved began displaying ostentatious symbols of wealth, such as cars and boats that were inappropriately expensive for someone living on a police officer’s salary.