Novo Banco

ECB investigates relationship between president of Novo Banco and former Benfica boss facing multiple counts of corruption 

The European Central Bank is investigating “the issue of the relationship” between António Ramalho, the executive president of Novo Banco – the bank for which taxpayers have stumped up billions of euros – and Luís Filipe Vieira, former president of Benfica football club, currently on €3 million bail as a result of the Cartão Vermelho investigation  probing alleged ‘damages to the State’ of over €100 million.

The basis of the probe is whether Mr Ramalho somehow colluded with Mr Vieira over the latter’s statements to the parliamentary commission set up to investigate Novo Banco (the ‘ruinous sale’ for which taxpayers are still paying, and allegations of underhand dealing click here).

Did he “prepare” Mr Vieira? Certainly phone tapped conversations seem to suggest that he did.

Bloco de Esquerda coordinator Catarina Martins has already raised the question of the ‘suitability’ of Mr Ramalho to remain running a bank that is still being bailed out by the State.

PS MP João Paulo Correia has told CNN Portugal that the Bank of Portugal “should analyse if António Ramalho and the rest of the administrative team continue to unite the conditions of suitability to continue running Novo Banco” – and, as media reports confirm, “doubts over the suitability of the executive president of Novo Banco have risen since telephone conversation between him and a former Novo Banco director” were leaked to the press.

In those conversations, Mr Ramalho can be clearly heard saying he is scheduling a meeting with Mr Vieira to “prepare” him for the parliamentary grilling.

In the same conversation, according to Sábado, Mr Ramalho said he was not comfortable with former director Vítor Fernandes facing the commission, so ‘another director’ (Rui Fontes) was being “prepared” by media company Cunha Vaz & Associates and that this director would be “monotone and boring, because the guys won’t understand a thing of what he has to say…”

Perhaps the most curious issue in this latest controversy is that the Bank of Portugal (whose governor was the minister of finance who oversaw the ‘ruinous sale’ of Novo Banco that has cost Portugal so dearly) has said it cannot do the investigation itself – passing it instead to the European Central Bank.

Yet the Bank of Portugal’s role is to regulate banks in Portugal.

Lusa has been given the explanation for this:: the Bank of Portugal has said that “in the case of Novo Banco (because it is a significant institution) it is the ECB that is responsible for “opening and deciding eventual processes for reevaluating suitability”.

BdP added that when necessary “it takes the initiative to share with the ECB all relevant information on significant institutions as soon as this comes to its knowledge, and articulates with the ECB in order to allow a considered decision on possible steps to be taken”.

The ECB for its part has said that it is too soon to say anything, other than it is investigating – and last night on SIC evening news it was stressed that Mr Ramalho wholeheartedly refutes any implications of wrongdoing.

The truth remains nonetheless that Luís Filipe Vieira has “elevated debts” with Novo Banco, and a number of these were restructured and sold in conditions that “raised doubts” (to put it mildly) among MPs sitting on the parliamentary commission.

Tax inspector Paulo Silva has already suggested that the preparatory meetings cited “are simply more evidence of the concern, on both sides, that the debtor and creditor had with the parliamentary commission”, implying “attempts to concentrate positions” in view of the financial operations that went ahead, and are now under investigation.

Even worse, stories are swirling this week about another privileged relationship Mr Vieira may have had with a former Novo Banco director.

Back in July, there was the controversy over his relationship with Vítor Fernandes, at the time tipped to head the new Development Bank (click here), now there are allegations that Mr Vieira paid Álvaro Neves €50,000 “in return for favours”.

As SIC explains, when business dealings linking Mr Neves with Mr Vieira started coming under investigation – and after the searches carried out last year at Novo Banco, “Álvaro Neves was fired following an internal inquiry”.

SIC adds that prosecutors at Portugal’s Public Ministry “have hundreds of hours of telephone recordings of Luís Filipe Vieira and other suspects.

“Beyond property deals, Operation Cartão Vermelho is investigating financial movements with transfers of more than 50 players between 2012 and 2020.

“The investigation refers to deals and financings of over €100 million, with damages to the State and to Novo Banco”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com