Foul! Critics condemn Socialist support for Benfica boss re-election campaign

Prime minister António Costa and the Socialist mayor of Lisbon Fernando Medina are in major hot water this week for showing support for the reelection campaign of Benfica boss Luís Filipe Vieira.

The reason centres on Vieira’s (and indeed Benfica’s) association (at best) and ‘involvement’ (at worst) with a number of criminal investigations.

As newspapers explain, Vieira is a defendant in Operation Lex and “could be accused soon of the crime of undue receipt of advantage due to the alleged promising of posts in Benfica to judge Rui Rangel”.

Rangel himself has already been ‘disgraced’ to the point of being removed as a practising judge while he faces his own charges with regard to Lex. Stories breaking over Sunday night claim he received around €1 million over the period 2005-2017 for ‘favouring’ certain defendants and ‘altering decisions in court’.

Thus the moment – considered by many as highly sensitive – is not ideal for high-ranking members of the political establishment to be seen so blatantly coming forwards.

Explains Expresso, the list of political heavyweights backing Vieira is not confined to the prime minister and mayor of Lisbon. There are centre-right MPs, the mayor of Seixal and even the president of the Portuguese Confederation of Businesses (António Saraiva).

This would be much easier to accept if the club’s president and Benfica itself appeared ‘squeaky clean’, but the last few years have thrown up a lot of mud that is now set to go through the courts.

Operation Lex is just one of the investigations underway: there is also ‘Mala Caio’ (involving a scheme over the lending of players to clubs), the fallout from e-Toupeira (where Benfica was acquitted but in which a former legal advisor to the club has gone on to face corruption charges) – and last week the connection of Luís Filipe Vieira’s name with regard to alleged involvement with the Odebrecht building company condemned in Brazil’s Lava Jato corruption case.

Said PSD Opposition leader Rui Rio: “I have always thought it bad to mix politics with professional football, particularly as today there are judicial problems involved…”

Not mincing her words Bloco de Esquerda coordinator Catarina Martins queried how it can be ‘normal’ for a prime minister to sign up to what is a ‘commission of honour’ for Vieira’s re-candidacy when Vieira is “one of the major debtors to Novo Banco” and “implicated” in the Banco Espírito Santo “problem”.

The time for ‘complicity between politics and business’ has passed, she said – and “can no longer be accepted in this country”.

The wrangle comes days since Socialist maverick Ana Gomes presented her own candidacy for the Presidency of the Republic, decrying the lack of transparency and ‘installed interests’ within the Portuguese establishment.

For now, PM Costa’s team has tried to deflect all the criticism, saying he is simply showing his support for Vieira as a long-standing Benfica fan and paid-up club member, “not as prime minister”.

Luís Filipe Vieira too has come out with all guns blazing, saying he is fed up with the “permanent campaign of insinuations” against him.

But the deluge of criticism from all quarters continues.

TV commentator José Gomes Ferreira told SIC on Sunday evening that “everyone has the right to be indignant”, not least because Vieira “owes the bank more than €700 million”, despite having had €255 million wiped from his debts to Novo Banco in 2018.

“Who is going to pay this money to Novo Banco”, asked Gomes Ferreira. “All of us Portuguese!”

Other candidates vying to take over from Vieira at Benfica are equally ‘appalled’.

Said one (Bruno Costa Carvalho) “I admit that I voted PS and for António Costa in the past, but I will never do it again. I am ashamed of the way I voted. I am ashamed of my country”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com