Judges pre-empt trial and expel one of their own

In an extraordinary move, the Superior Council of Magistrates has expelled one of their own before his ‘culpability’ has been proved in a court of law.

Rui Rangel is the judge who consistently sided with former prime minister José Sócrates in his dozens of appeal bids against prosecution for corruption (click here), and indeed tried to close down the investigation, now hearing pre-trial evidence (click here).

He is also the judge who decided to return millions of euros worth of confiscated property to the former head of BES Angola who has never fully answered questions on the bank’s missing hundreds of millions (click here).

Explain reports today, Mr Rangel may appeal the Superior Council of Magistrates’ decision, in which case his expulsion could be suspended. But it is definitely the first time that a disciplinary process of this kind has been decided before the lawmaker in question has faced formal accusation.

Rangel is “suspected of various crimes”, explained Público earlier this year when he ‘returned to active duty’ after a period of suspension relating to the disciplinary process.

He is an ‘arguido’ (official suspect) in the Operation Lex investigation (a spin-off from another probe, involving corruption in international trade, tax fraud, money-laundering and influence peddling click here).

His name has also been linked to other investigations. Thus the disciplinary process was all about whether or not Mr Rangel has been acting as a judge should act, or whether he left himself open to corruption. Reports explain how “he was investigated to determine whether he had been receiving money ‘unduly’, and whether his lifestyle and assets reflected his earnings”.

Mr Rangel’s lawyer told journalists during in October that proof collected during a criminal investigation “cannot be transported to a disciplinary process” – particularly as his client refutes having committed any crimes.

But Mr Rangel’s “bank accounts and the thousands of euros that were in the possession of lawyer Santos Martins, but used by the judge as if they were his, culminated in the most serious decision by the Superior Council of Magistrates”, writes Correio da Manhã today.

Also ‘disciplined’ by the council was Mr Rangel’s estranged wife and judge herself Fátima Galante.

She faces compulsory retirement, although she will be allowed to keep her pension and “some perks of the magistracy”, adds CM.

Coincidentally, the paper is running another story in today’s edition concerning another judge which it claims is under investigation for “allegedly furnishing information on judicial cases” to a Viseu hotel boss, “in exchange for money, stays in hotels and the use of a Mercedes car”.

The hotel boss received an initial jail sentence of five years and three months, but this was reduced on appeal to four years and three months, suspended.

CM says it has tried to contact both the hotel boss and the judge in question – who has yet to be cited as an ‘arguido’ – to no avail.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com