Almost exactly a year since the catastrophic collapse of Banco Espírito Santo and his indictment relating to the Monte Branco money-laundering scandal, former BES boss Ricardo Salgado returned to Lisbon’s central court of criminal instruction (TIC) to face a 13-hour grilling.
He left the exhaustive day of questioning as an “arguido” (formal suspect) placed under house arrest with a round-the-clock police guard.
He was driven back to his Estoril home from which he now cannot make a move without authorization from TIC’s “superjudge” Carlos Alexandre.
As the country’s newspapers have stressed, Salgado is not wearing an electronic bracelet – the condition that jailed former Socialist prime minister José Sócrates was offered (and refused) as terms for his conditional release from jail – but “liberties” have been at a minimum for months now, with bank accounts frozen, property seized and almost everything that can be sold in the event of successful criminal prosecution already covered by court order.
With at least five autonomous inquiries running under the Universe Espírito Santo investigation – and with another 73 “attached” – Salgado was given “arguido” status last Monday, along with five other former BES directors: Amílcar Morais Pires, Isabel Almeida, António Soares, José Manuel Espírito Santo and Manuel Fernando Espírito Santo.
A statement from the Attorney General’s office confirms that “at issue is the suspicion of the practice of various crimes, among them corruption in the private sector and money laundering”.
Salgado is understood to be facing additional charges of falsification of documents, computer falsification, qualified fiscal fraud and abuse of confidence.
The former president of the bank that collapsed last summer presenting losses of almost €3.6 billion is already on €3 million bail over suspicions of his involvement in Operation Monte Branco – a corruption investigation that involves a veritable Who’s Who of Portuguese VIPs, including bankers, politicians and even sporting personalities.
For now, Salgado’s lawyer has confirmed his client will be appealing against the order for house arrest.
“It is a very disproportionate measure”, Proença de Carvalho told journalists as he left TIC shortly in the early hours of Saturday morning. “This is not only our opinion”, he added, “but that of all the processual agents involved in this case”.
Salgado’s lengthy questioning on Friday followed police swoops on property owned by the Espírito Santo empire last month, and a further 80 searches understood to have taken place on the day he was formally made an “arguido”.
In one of its many exclusives on the debacle, national tabloid Correio da Manhã explains: “The objective of the latest searches was to apprehend works of art.
“For months, the PJ investigation has tracked a transport company hired by Ricardo Salgado to “spread” the works among the houses of family members and friends”, it continued.
“Around ten artworks went to the house of his son, others to the ‘quinta’ (farm) of Morais Pires”.
CM also refers to the 73 “attached” inquiries involved in the Universe Espírito Santo investigation.
“These refer to complaints by people who say they were defrauded by the activities of BES and GES (Grupo Espírito Santo)”, the paper explains.
Picking up on the story in Australia, Sky News there informed readers that BES’ “woes threatened to bring drag down Portugal’s economy, which had only gingerly emerged from a three-year bailout”.
The government and the EU “swiftly came to the rescue”, however – and the resulting good bank/ bad bank carve-up saw the former plough-in €3.9 billion, added the news service.