The inflammable protective snood scandal that caused political ructions earlier this summer has seen PJ police mount a series of searches this morning.
The focus of activity has been offices of the Ministry of Interior Administration, various headquarters of Civil Protection and the company that provided the snoods as part of a kit to protect villagers against rural fires, Foxtrot Aventura Unipessoal Lda.
At issue, explain reports, are suspicions of the crimes of economic participation in business and the diversion of (EU) subsidies.
The searches have been conducted by the PJ’s anti-corruption unit, and have extended throughout the country – with even the CDOS (emergency district command) centre in Loulé receiving a visit from three inspectors.
Readers may recall this scandal led to one relatively minor resignation: that of 24-year-old Francisco Ferreira, then the under secretary of state for Civil Protection who was said to be instrumental in awarding the contract for the kits to Foxtrot.
Sol suggests Ferreira may be cited as an ‘arguido’ (official suspect) in the case. But there will almost certainly be others, and they are likely to be ‘bigger fish’ than the former under secretary of state (see update below).
As Sol explains, this story “started with the distribution of 70,000 protective snoods” as part of a kit for the “Aldeia Segura: Pessoas Seguras” programme. But it’s “much more than this” now.
The firm that supplied the snoods and the emergency kits is owned by the husband of a PS mayor; the snoods were purchased for above the market price (indeed some news sources say they cost more than double the market price) and the company hired to print the pamphlets for the Aldeia Segura programme “has a history of winning contracts” with the council in question that used to be run by Francisco Ferreira’s former boss, still Secretary of State for Civil Protection José Artur Neves.
All in all, this is the kind of inquiry that no government fighting an election in two weeks time would relish.
Lunchtime television stations are focusing on the case, and the various connections people involved appear to have with the PS party.
The money at issue is surprisingly ‘little’: €125,000 for 70,000 protective snoods. But the fact that just a spark on one of these snoods worn by someone in a fire situation could lead to them being badly burned on the face has inflamed opinion.
Early on, the official response was that the snoods were simply “information material” and never intended for use by villagers in fire scenarios.
But as Público queried at the time, ‘why distribute safety kits if they are not safe?”
There were also suggestions when this story first broke that the government had asked for the snoods to be fire-retardant, but that the cost had been ‘too much’ (click here).
UPDATE: Shortly after 3pm today, the Secretary of State for Civil Protection José Artur Neves tendered his resignation.
Said reports, his office was among those searched by police today.
This was in fact the second time this year that Neves’ office has been searched. In May his former chief of staff Adelino Mendes resigned after being cited as an ‘arguido’ in an inquiry that “investigates precisely suspicions of the obtainment of EU subsidies”, writes Diário de Notícias.