It is one of the seaside town’s much-loved ‘mascots’, but according to reports this week, Lagos Academy of Music is under investigation for fraud.
Its president of the board has already been made an official suspect over the alleged claiming of “more than €139,000” in State subsidies for fictitious pupils, says Público.
In a story that has been picked up by other news sources, the daily paper owned by Grupo Sonae – whose founder, Belmiro de Azevedo died this week leaving a fortune of €1.3 billion – claims that Public Ministry investigators have found a list of around 150 “false pupils, created allegedly to increase the volume of State support to specialised, artistic education”.
PJ police have “apprehended various documents to “clarify” the “scope of activity of this establishment” while its president has been prohibited from making any kind of contact with any of the witnesses in the case, says the paper.
For a community that has held Lagos Academia de Música in high esteem for so many years, this is nothing short of a bombshell.
The school has always been seen as a ‘jewel-in-the-crown’ of local education in Lagos. Every year hundreds of families bid for places for their offspring as what is known as “ensino articulado” promises a much more ‘rounded’ start to secondary school, giving children the luxury of learning a musical instrument.
According to Público, these damning allegations stem from a report compiled by inspectors of IGEC, the general inspectorate of education and science.
The report allegedly refers to the academy’s “improper receipt of €139,192.34 in a continuous way by the inclusion of false pupils on lists supplied to the Ministry of Education and Science”.
As the paper explains, Lagos’ ‘academia’ (as it is known locally) runs four of the nine specialised artistic teaching establishments in the region and receives €1.3 million in State subsidies per year.
Last year, it supported a total of 1,133 pupils who receive specialist teaching ‘free of charge’ – the costs supported by public funding.
Público claims that the IGEC report covers five years (from 2010 to 2015), but it is unclear whether the investigation was prompted by whistleblowing, or whether the allegedly ‘false’ declarations appeared in the process of normal accounting.
Certainly, the academy’s president José António Gonçalves has stressed that he is “accused of nothing”.
Público presents him as a businessman in the civil construction sector with a “multiplicity of interests”.
Gonçalves is described as “mockingly” saying that he is “connected to everything”.
Público also mentions a 35-room hostel, property of the Academy – that is due to open in February next year – and the fact that the establishment’s head of its general assembly was until recently in the hands of a lecturer at the University of the Algarve, whose services were “dispensed with” at the last meeting of the board.
Gonçalves is reported to have not given “further explanations”, while the outgoing general assembly boss has also refused to make any kind of statement, telling Público that “the processes are underway and the judicial authorities will act in accordance”.
But one of the parents who has been closely connected to the academy for many years has told the Resident that she believes much of this is “mischief making” and that the Academy lives from ‘hand-to-mouth’ year-in-year out, “doing its very best in extreme circumstances”.
Reports of unpaid salaries for staff and teachers have appeared regularly over the years since the financial crisis. This year has been no exception, with the latest stories appearing in regional press only two months ago relating to 90 staff members, among them at least 50 teachers, all waiting for money due.