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Finance minister “in clear” though critics describe “unhealthy atmosphere of distrust”

It has been another “one of those weeks” in Portugal when, as one leader writer has explained, “events have moved at such speed that it’s difficult to distinguish if we are not all born guilty”.

Serious newspapers and tabloids have been covering the case involving appeal court judge Rui Rangel – and a former wife and fellow judge Fátima Galante – “suspected of deciding cases in exchange for favours” – but as Miguel Cadete of Expresso adds, despite the seriousness of likely charges, neither are among the ‘official suspects’ held in preventive custody.

This has to do with a quirk of ‘justice’ that rules that any magistrate or judge suspected of wrongdoing cannot be deprived of their liberty unless “caught in flagrante”.

The fact that €10,000 in frowned-upon €500 euro notes were discovered during PJ searches of Rangel’s home in a luxury condominium in Oeiras on Tuesday did not constitute “in flagrante”, nor that he has been living a life considered “beyond his means” (Expresso again).

But, says Cadete, there is the chance that the Council of Magistrates may suspend Galante (this he gleaned from tabloid Correio da Manhã), in which case she could indeed see her immunity from preventive custody “come to an end”.

One person who has returned to the ‘clear’ is Finance Minister Mário Centeno – whose offices were searched only last week in a puzzling episode portrayed as trying to link the free use of the presidential box at a Benfica football match to a sizeable rates exemption for one of the sons of the club’s boss Luís Filipe Vieira (who has since been named as an official suspect in the extraordinary case involving Rangel, Galante and “various other lawyers”).

Cadete wonders at the speed of this bill of exemplary health. “One has to remember the Ministry of Finance was the target of searches six days before. The archiving (of the case) happened in record time”, he says.

Former PSD leader Manuela Ferreira Leite, now an incisive TVI commentator, is clearly not impressed.

She classifies the Public Ministry’s investigation of Centeno as both “absurd” and “deplorable”.

Indeed, she adds that cases of the sort flying about this week help create “an atmosphere of distrust that is very unhealthy”.

Cadete, however, is more relaxed about the week’s lunacy, saying: “These days, we all know that politics, sport, the banking sector and businesses have lived happily outside the law for many years”.

He agrees this week has been particularly confusing, but at least it has ensured that there is lots to write about.

Tabloid Correio da Manhã, for instance, has switched its ‘shock, horror’ emphasis (finally) from the alleged business activities of former prime minister José Sócrates and is now concentrating on all the purported frills furnished Rui Rangel as he is meant to have done his judicial best to see ‘corruptors’ got what they wanted.

Names flying out of the maelstrom include former BES Angola boss Álvaro Sobrinho – most recently in the news for controversies in Mauritius (click here) and still with few answers about what happened to all those billions lost by the bank (click here).

Rangel is purported to have okayed the lifting of a lien on €80 million-worth of Sobrinho’s properties in Cascais almost three years ago – a decision which could now be “annulled and the whole process reopened”, says CM.

Sobrinho is described as “still under investigation” by DIAP, the department of investigation and penal action, but if other news stories are to be believed, he is many hundreds of kilometres away from any of these rapidly unfolding issues.

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