The former mayor of Vila Real de Santo António has been charged with a litany of crimes, including passive corruption, document falsification, prevarication and abuse of power.

Former Algarve mayor, former MP charged in long-running corruption investigation

Operation Triangle covers truncated tenure of former PSD mayor Conceição Cabrita

The Public Prosecutor’s Office has issued charges for various crimes – including corruption – for the former mayor of Vila Real de Santo António, Conceição Cabrita, construction and property entrepreneurs, a municipal official and a former MP.

The accusation was made as part of the investigation known as Operation Triangle, the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) has revealed in a statement from the Évora Department of Investigation and Criminal Action (DIAP) – pointing out that among the 12 defendants there are “11 natural persons and one legal person”.

According to Évora DIAP, the case involves “several offences of passive and active corruption of a political office holder, abuse of power of a political office holder, malfeasance of a political office holder and document forgery“.

The defendants include “a former mayor of Vila Real de Santo António, businessmen in the construction and property sectors, a municipal official and a former member of parliament,” the same source told Lusa.

As the source from the Public Prosecutor’s Office explains, the investigation covered the former mayor’s activities between 2019 and 2021 (when she resigned following her arrest), and was triggered by a “process of selling municipal land for the construction of a large-scale property project in Monte Gordo, in municipal public procurement procedures (in which the Vila Real de Santo António City Council was the contracting authority) and in the licensing of a private construction project“.

The same source said that the “municipal political decision-maker” acted “in the exercise and abuse of her public functions and powers” and “intervened in order to achieve advantages for herself and third parties, over time, in various matters within the competence of the municipality and in its geographical area”.

“In the final order, the Public Prosecutor’s Office makes a request for the loss of advantages against several defendants, and a financial and asset investigation is pending in order to possibly make a request for extended loss, with the intervention of the Asset Recovery Office,” the statement continues.

Évora’s DIAP indicated that “closure orders were also issued in relation to related matters”.

The MP recalls that the investigation was conducted by the Évora DIAP and the Polícia Judiciária (PJ) and led to “search and seizure operations in the Algarve, Lisbon, Leiria and Santarém”.

The same source said that these endeavours made it possible to carry out “computer searches and seizures”, dozens of witnesses were interviewed and telephone and similar communications were intercepted, as well as follow-ups with image collection.

Former Vila Real de Santo António mayor Conceição Cabrita was arrested on 13 April 2021 by the PJ on suspicion of irregularities in a property deal in Monte Gordo, and on the same date the municipality was raided.

Conceição Cabrita was elected by the PSD in 2017 to preside over the Algarve municipality, after having been a councillor and vice-president under the previous president, Luís Gomes, and had announced that she would not run again for the position in the elections scheduled for that year.

The day after the police raid, Socialist MP António Gameiro confirmed that the Judicial Police had searched his home and office as part of the case.

On 16 April, Conceição Cabrita, who had announced that she was resigning from her position on the municipal council, and three other defendants were released from the Évora court, with a ban on contacts between them and with António Gameiro.

Among the defendants announced at the time were Conceição Cabrita, businessman Carlos Alberto Casimiro de Matos, in his individual capacity, but also as the legal representative of Sociedade Saint Germain – Empreendimentos Imobiliários SA, João Faustino Ribeiro and José Maria Mateus Cavaco Silva.

Since these arrests, the dire financial straits of VRSA municipality have become all too clear.

Earlier this year, it was reported that the town hall, the local sports complex, camp site and ‘pousada’ (now hotel managed by the Pestana group) have all been ‘seized’ by BCP bank for non-payment of long-standing debts.

The debts go back to the time of previous PSD mayor Luís Gomes, who told SIC Notícias earlier this year that when he was in charge, all repayment procedures were being complied with. It appears to have been during the tenure of Ms Cabrita that repayments ‘stopped’, leading to debts now in the region of €30 million.

ECO online writing about the various charges suggests that prosecutors believe Conceição Cabrita and António Gameiro received €100,000 and €300,000 respectively over the Monte Gordo property deal.

Citing Visão magazine, the online adds that “businessman Paulo Calvinho is also accused of active corruption against Conceição Cabrita, describing him as a ‘slush fund’ of the former president who, after receiving thousands of euros, sought to compensate him through contracts awarded by VRSA town council”.

Sources: Lusa/ SIC Notícias/ ECO