Justice or Jingle Bells?

Justice or Jingle Bells?

2014 has been an astonishing year for Portuguese justice. We have seen the detention of a former prime minister, the arrest of the country’s most powerful banker, the conviction of a former PSD MP, the removal from power of both the high and the mighty as police investigations sweep the country – but does any of it signify real change? Will the corrupt and the criminal truly be taken to task, or will the whole motley crew skip off merrily to a darkly comic festive rendition of “Jingle Bracelets all the Way”? NATASHA DONN takes a critical look at the year’s so-called investigative “success stories” and wonders where they will all end?
On the face of it, justice has had a triumphant year. If you can gloss over the fact that the much-heralded ‘redrawing of the judicial map’ caused the country’s legal portal to collapse – temporarily jettisoning 3.5 million cases into virtual fog – the sheer volume of high-level corruption “rumbled” by the authorities has been unprecedented.
From pharmaceutical scams (“Consulta Vicentina”), to “turbo doctor” cartels, guilty verdicts in “Operation Homeland” and “Face Oculta” investigations, and finally the rounding-up of allegedly corrupt bankers (Monte Branco/BES) ahead of allegedly corrupt key state employees (Operation Labyrinth/Golden Visas), the Portuguese media has been on fire.
Last month’s detention of former Prime Minister José Sócrates, suspected of qualified tax evasion, money-laundering and corrupt practices, has been the cherry on the cake – particularly as efforts to release him from preventive custody seem to be mysteriously failing (three writs of Habeas corpus so far have got nowhere).
But could this all be a huge charade? A show of “look how well we’re doing” when, in fact, very little has changed? It is a question on the minds of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands.
As former PJ inspector and regular news commentator Carlos Anjos wrote recently: “In the last decade, the country has been assailed by cases like the Submarines, the Pandur military vehicles, Freeport, Portucale, the sale of properties belonging to CTT, BPN, BPP, Swaps, Public-Private Partnerships,” and yet while “all these processes, and many others for which there simply isn’t enough space to identify, were connected to the highest figures in the land”, for “one reason or another culpability died a spinster”.
It’s a quaint way of putting it, but as Anjos continues, “in all these cases crimes were committed … but for reasons unknown, no one was judged or condemned”.
And when we have seen guilty verdicts, look what happens: Face Oculta is a perfect example. It was one of the most expensive and longest trials in Portugal, which ended this year with a welter of condemnations and prison terms, yet all those brought down by police remain as free as birds. Why? Because they have lodged appeals.
Exactly the same has happened in the Homeland case involving smooth-talking former MP Duarte Lima (still wanted by Brazilian authorities investigating a murder). Lima received his 10-year prison sentence for money laundering and qualified fraud only last month – after years wriggling on the edge of justice – but because he is appealing, he continues to elude incarceration.
As citizens’ website apodrecetuga.blogspot.pt writes, “it is like a Monopoly game”.
“This should not be allowed,” adds the site. “From the moment a court condemns people to prison, they should be imprisoned. They should not lose their possibility to appeal, of course, but they should await the decisions (on any appeal) in the right place: jail.”
What worries legal observers in the case of Sócrates is not so much that he is in jail, but why no formal charges have been levelled against him after more than two weeks. Could this work to his advantage in future?
This, and the fact that so many “high level investigations” rounded up in the last six months are all the responsibility of one so-called “super-judge”, the media’s much-lauded “Mourinho of the Justice System”. Is it even legal for one judge to oversee so many overlapping cases?
Thus the uneasy feeling that there may be a lot more to this year’s judicial “triumphs” than we’re being led to believe.
Meantime, among those laughing all the way home (if not to the bank) are the manufacturers of electronic tags (better known as electronic bracelets).
“Jingle Jangle all the way”… If you listen carefully on Christmas Day you will hear them up and down the country as Portugal’s condemned open their presents gleefully under well-stocked trees.