Freeport case will be governed by judicial secrecy

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

The Freeport enquiry into bribery and corruption allegations over the fast-track planning permission of the Lisbon retail park will enjoy judicial secrecy until June 2010 under Portuguese law.

It means that the press will not be party to essential information to do with the case under investigation during that time.

According to daily national newspaper, Correio da Manhã, the investigation was given the new extension until June 2010 by a Public Ministry High Court judge, Carlos Alexandre.

The cloak of judicial secrecy has been imposed by the judge based on the argument that excessive press attention could impede or adversely affect the work of investigating magistrates and bias the outcome of the case.

The High Court judge also cited the seriousness of the alleged crimes under investigation, which include active corruption, bribery and traffic of influence, for the cloak of secrecy.

Opponents of the move say that it will simply remove any transparency or accountability in a case which is of enormous public interest and, therefore, should be under the scrutiny of the media.  

However, despite the investigation time limit extension, magistrates are not ruling out the possibility that the investigation might be finished before next summer.

Investigating magistrates or procurators involved in the four million euro corruption case could be given a legal warrant to question the Prime Minister, José Sócrates, about his alleged involvement in the planning permission of Freeport, Europe’s largest factory shopping outlet at Alcochete, within the former boundaries of European Union and Portuguese protected River Tejo estuary wetlands, when Minister for the Environment in 2002.

Legal action

So far, Sócrates has denied any involvement in the Freeport scandal and has threatened to take legal action and sue for defamation of character against any organisation, entity or person making corruption allegations against him.

There have also been veiled allegations that monies from Freeport plc were illegally requested and used as party donations to fund the 2002 governing PS election campaign.

Other criticisms levelled against the Prime Minister centre around the purchase of two luxury apartments at knock-down prices in one of Lisbon’s most expensive areas in Rua de Braancamp, close to Marquês de Pombal.

Under Portuguese law, foreign entities or companies based abroad are forbidden to make donations to Portuguese political parties, while political parties must publish party donations from Portuguese registered companies or businessman.

The Prime Minister, should he be called by the investigating magistrates to give evidence, can choose to do so by writing under rules and guidelines from the State Council – the only non-judicial state entity called to intervene in the case.

According to the recent deposition of British businessman Charles Smith, who is an ‘arguido’ or suspect in the case, a DVD recording at the time, which allegedly records a conversation between a former Freeport director, Charles Smith and a third party, is authentic and could be used as evidence of corruption in the investigation.

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