Extraordinary case of bank manager who stole €3 million to make his branch “look good”

BPN || It’s an extraordinary story – all the more bizarre for the fact that it relates to the bank that bombed in 2008 in an inextricable confusion of corruption and malpractice.

Artur Alho, now 65, was a former bank manager of BPN, in Gandra, near Porto.

He wanted his branch to remain one of BPN’s “top of the best in the country” and so he came up with a convoluted plan on how to lure new business.

It involved offering clients impossibly high levels of interest by taking money from existing customer accounts.

As a court in Penafiel has been hearing – seven years since BPN was nationalised with debts of €1.8 billion – Alho’s system was unsustainable.

Clients began noticing their funds were sliding. Alho went on taking “a little bit here and a little bit there” until the (almost) final moment, in which “many clients were defrauded and others benefitted” and Alho suddenly realised he had spirited away all of €3 million.

It was at this point that he came up with another characteristically lunatic scheme. He would throw himself off a bridge – or at least pretend to – and everyone would forget the whole thing.

The only trouble was – although his devastated family helped police frogman for days after his car was found abandoned by the Crestuma dam at Vila Nova da Gaia – police smelt a rat.

They finally caught up with Alho in southern Spain.

Explaining to the court that it had all been “a question of pride”, Alho is at last standing trial for the crimes of infidelity, qualified fraud and falsification of documents.

He is reported to have explained that his branch “was always in the fourth or fifth place nationally and there was pressure from the top to keep up standards”.

Intriguingly, when one considers the treatment handed out to former PM José Sócrates – also suspected of crimes of qualified fraud and “diverted” millions – Alho has waited for his moment in court in complete freedom.

The court heard how he lives in a closed condominium, in an apartment by the sea, in a privileged part of town.

Hearing all the evidence against him, he said: “It is almost all true, but now it is hardly worth saying that I am sorry. I took money from some accounts to fill others, but I never ended up with any of it for myself.”

By NATASHA DONN
[email protected]