Three Portuguese judges at the Competitions Court have spoken out against flaws in the system that risk ‘losing ’ millions of euros in fines levied against banks and large companies.
The issue is that the cases – including BES Angola, Montepio and the cartelisation of banks click here) – are convoluted and piling up, yet have very short time limits in order to be adjudicated.
Add to this the problem that the courtroom has to be shared by all three judges: if they cannot deliver their verdicts in time, their cases will be archived.
Says Expresso, the trio is “racing against time”.
Justice minister Francisca Van Dunem – already in hot water for sanctioning the sending of ‘erroneous information’ to Brussels to ensure the hiring of the government’s choice for European Prosecutor (click here) – is described as “aware of the situation” but not having responded to the urgent appeals for a solution.
This could be as simple as making another courtroom available. There are plans, for example, for a ‘new palace of justice’ in Santarém, but they simply haven’t moved forwards.
It’s not as if this is a new problem – but the pandemic has made everything worse.
Said judge Mariana Gomes Machado – responsible for the case against Montepio (involving around €5 million, says Expresso), BES Angola and the so-called bank cartel (€225 million) or the issue of bank regulator CMVM against auditors KPMG (€1 million) – “the situation is extreme. We don’t have the logistic capacity or the computing tools that would help. All this makes our judgements more complicated. They take longer – sometimes twice or three times as long in cases with very short time limits”.
Her colleagues Marta Campos and Vanda Miguel say the same.
Judge Miguel told Expresso: “We have no rest. We don’t take days off, or weekends. Work ends in the early hours”.
Expresso has directed questions at the Justice Minister’s office, but says it has received no response.
“While there is no new courtroom, the problems pile up”, says the paper.
Indeed, Judge Machado’s cases are ‘older’ and so first in line to ‘lapse’ – thus her colleagues have ceded her one extra day in the current courtroom, and taken their business to facilities in the town halls of Santarém and Cartaxo.
But it’s not an ideal solution, says Judge Miguel, and it “affects the image of the court”.
It also plays into the narrative that the ‘big-fish’ in Portugal rarely ‘pay up’ – even if they get caught.