A Portuguese tax inspector, with an extraordinary record of previous employment in public companies, is under investigation after being found with a personal fortune of €2.3 million hidden away in HSBC Switzerland.
How the 58-year-old civil servant came to be associated with the so-called “Swiss Leaks” scandal is what secretary of state for fiscal affairs Paulo Núncio is currently attempting to find out. Núncio is also under pressure from opposition MPs to explain a “VIP taxpayers list” – designed to protect every big name in the country from politics to football.
But as all this goes on, tax inspector Filomena Martinho Bacelar is said to be still behind the desk at her top job in Lisbon – with bosses telling reporters that the affair is a “personal matter with no relation to her professional activity or the institution which she represents”.
As TVI – the broadcaster that broke the news – accepts, “having money is not a crime. Neither is having accounts abroad” – although the Swiss Leaks scandal has been found “various times” to involve “money laundering and tax evasion” on vast scales.
When the nation’s media picked the story up last week, Bacelar was described as busily wiping all her social media profiles clean.
Increasing concerns was the apparent proximity to Bacelar of Portuguese lawyer Ana Bruno.
Ana Bruno’s name, explains Observador website, has been linked to the multi-tentacled “Monte Branco” network of tax evasion and corruption – a ring that has been described as Portugal’s “largest money-laundering operation of all time”.
In this particular case, Ana Bruno’s offices have been flagged as handling the business of one of the company’s associated with Bacelar.
With details of Bacelar’s personal fortune now splashed across the web, an announcement by tax department workers that there is a so-called VIP list that alerts the government to any outside snooping on ‘big names’ has brought the climate of suspicion over high-level corruption in Portugal to fever pitch.
It doesn’t help that we’re at a pre-election juncture in which the nation’s own prime minister has been squirming uncomfortably in the spotlight over his own tax payment indiscretions.
For now, Bacelar is suffering the consequences of being the first Portuguese citizen singled out in the investigation into Portugal’s mysterious 611.
As Observador writes, only 421 of the 611 are registered for tax purposes on national territory – and this far, there have only been vague rumours as to their identities.
For example, we have been told of a “former minister”, “a current MP”, “one of the most famous figures in Portuguese law, now deceased” and “at least 10 lawyers” with accounts safely tucked away in Switzerland.
Elsewhere, media sources mention that “one of the largest accounts involves over €144 million” and “is associated to a national bank”.
Whether the various account holders declared the money in tax returns is what is keeping Paulo Núncio burning the midnight oil.
But as investigations are said to be ongoing, details of Bacelar’s past make intriguing reading.
“Before joining the IGF (tax department in Lisbon), Filomena Bacelar exercised functions on the Porto Metro, at Águas de Portugal, ANA (Portugal’s airports authority), on the Transtejo (Lisbon ferry service), at Parque Expo ‘98, Docapesca and at Santarém district hospital,” revealed TVI.
The investigation into her fortune in HSBC is understood to have shown two accounts – jointly held with her husband and “another family member”.
Both relatives are reported to be involved in a building firm and a real estate business.
The joint accounts are said to be “associated with two offshore societies based in the British Virgin Islands in the Caribbean”.
One of those accounts is in the name of Bordel Investment Holdings Ltd – the holding company for Searchouse Imobiliária, Unipessoal, based in Lisbon which is apparently run by Ana Bruno, “the lawyer involved in the Monte Branco investigation”.
Following up on TVI’s story, Correio da Manhã has revealed that although the IGF ‘official line’ is that this is all a “personal matter” for their service chief, “an external auditor has been called in to investigate whether Filomena Bacelar may have used her job or any IGF installations to move funds to Swiss accounts”.
The same investigation is understood to be looking into the companies held by Bacelar’s husband.
The Swiss Leaks scandal was broken last month by a joint investigation of journalists from the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the French daily Le Monde, the BBC’s Panorama and the USA’s International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The investigation revealed how HSBC Switzerland “aggressively marketed schemes” to help wealthy clients avoid paying taxes in any number of countries.
Portugal was quoted as the 45th country with the largest quantity of dollars in these hidden accounts – a total of 969 million dollars (856 million euros). (See story: https://www.portugalresident.com/over-600-rich-portuguese-hid-money-in-hsbc-switzerland).
Switzerland used to be a country where banks did not reveal the account details of their clients. It was a decision made in the 1930s to protect Jewish people fleeing the Nazis.
But now the authorities have agreed to open up to the EU and USA – and automatic exchange of Swiss banking information is due to become a reality by 2018.
Stop press: VIP taxman resigns
The head of Portugal’s tax revenue service António Brigas Afonso resigned on Wednesday in the wake of the VIP tax list furore, which the government still maintains is completely bogus. Paulo Núncio reiterated that the government “never approved or decided on the elaboration of any list of taxpayers” – neither had it handed “any such list to the revenue service”. Reporting on the increasing controversy, Reuters writes that despite the government denial of any involvement, Afonso’s resignation “could add to unease surrounding Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho who has been under fire for failing to pay his taxes on time in the past. The scandal has already affected his party’s popularity ahead of the autumn election”.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]