Disgraced ex-SEF director ‘freed’ as Golden Visa corruption investigation continues

The former head of SEF (border control agency) Manuel Jarmela Palos has every reason to smile this week. He is the only key player in the Golden Visa corruption investigation to have his freedom ‘restored’ after months under house arrest. Even so, it is a conditional freedom. He has to remain in Portugal; he cannot have contact with any fellow defendants, lawmakers or former work colleagues, and he has to report to his local police station twice a week.

It is not certain whether Palos will eventually be able to resume duties at SEF. A bid to strike him off the payroll has been successfully contested and media sources have reported on the many difficulties his arrest has brought him. Palos’ children were apparently at risk of having to move schools as he did not have the money to pay the fees.

But while Palos is described by his lawyer as “very happy” to be released from house arrest, not so happy are fellow defendants Maria Antónia Anes, the former secretary general of the Ministry of Justice, and businessman Jaime Gomes – both of whom remain encumbered by electronic bracelets and prohibited from leaving the confines of their residences.

A total of 11 people were originally arrested as part of Operation Labyrinth which centres on an alleged network designed to fast-track ‘golden’ residency visas for non-Europeans in return for huge paybacks.

The kingpins of the ring are understood to have been Notary Institute boss António Figueiredo and Chinese businessman Zhu Xiadong, both of whom remain behind bars.

Since the moment the scandal broke, Palos has protested his innocence – stressing he was acting on “orders from above” and had never received any undue payments for expediting visa applications.

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