Leiria judge Gil Silva has ruled that three mayors of the central Portuguese boroughs devastated by wildfires two years ago must face trial for the negligent homicide of 19 citizens.
A total of 66 men, women and children died in blazes dubbed the fires of Pedrógão Grande in June 2017, and populations’ fury over alleged incompetence on multiple levels has been simmering ever since in the hope of ‘justice’.
The trial that will now proceed involves seven other ‘official suspects’, among them Civil Protection commander in charge at the time, Augusto Arnaut.
Arnaut will be answering 63 counts of negligent homicide, say reports, along with 44 for offences to physical integrity.
The same crimes are being levelled against two deputy directors of EDP, while council forestry engineer Margarida Gonçalves is cited over seven deaths and employees of road concession company Ascendi are accused of being responsible for 34.
But, explain reports, the “most newsworthy defendants” are the three mayors, Valdemar Alves (Pedrógão Grande), Jorge Abreu (Figueiró dos Vinhos) and Fernando Lopes (Castanheira de Pêra).
Valdemar Alves particularly has been in the news since the fires and is also under suspicion in the investigation into alleged irregularities in the massively subsidised rebuilding programme for fire-damaged homes.
Said reports over the weekend, the judge argued that Alves and his counterparts in Figueiró dos Vinhos and Castanheira de Pêra had failed to keep municipal roads clear of forestry proliferation “increasing an existing risk of damage to life and the physical integrity of others”.
Three people originally cited in the investigation have been spared prosecution: Pedrógão Grande’s deputy mayor, José Graça, and Civil Protection district commanders Sérgio Gomes and Mário Cerol.
Cerol, by coincidence, was the first ‘official suspect’ to have been named in the investigation (click here).