London evidence could keep Freeport Case open

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Documents from the Serious Fraud Squad in London, which include a sketch of a triangle with the names of the Prime Minister and two other important political figures, could keep the Freeport Case open until the summer.

The drawing, made by Rick Dattani, the former Assistant to the then Development Director of Freeport Plc, Jonathan Rawnsley, who was in charge of the Lisbon project, allegedly contains the names of José Sócrates, then Minister for the Environment, and Pedro Silva Pereira and Rui Gonçalves, both former secretaries of state.

Another of the company’s former directors – it is now owned by the Carlyle Group – was founder Sean Collidge, a tax exile who was forced to quit as chairman in 2006.

Jonathan Rawnsley, who was interviewed at the time the scandal first erupted, told British daily newspaper The Daily Mail that he had been interviewed by the SFO but said that it had “come to nothing”.

The sketched triangle with the names on each point purports to refer to those who were allegedly to receive backhanders to the value of 2.2 million euros.

Now, given the existence of these documents sent to Portugal from London by British police investigators, the Freeport Case may not be officially closed this month as anticipated by the Portuguese Criminal Investigation Department (DCIAP – Departamento Central de Investigação e Acção Penal).

The investigation is now likely to continue at least until June, the month in which official judicial secrecy ends.

According to information reported in Portuguese newspaper Correio da Manhã on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the investigation will continue precisely because of material collected in London.

It is also said that the ongoing inquiry, which currently places the three politicians as witnesses, is dividing the investigation team over a legal request to break bank secrecy in order to investigate their bank accounts.

In a further twist, it emerged on Tuesday that Portuguese investigators have been waiting for months for information on bank accounts and transfers from at least three offshores in the Cayman Islands, British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man. 

The requests are related to witness statements from Rick Dattani and Jonathan Rawnsley.

Dattani has admitted that Scottish buisnessman and Freeport consultant Charles Smith telephoned him to ask for 2.2 million euros in bribes to pay off “cabinet ministers” but that the payments were never made. 

One of the problems in getting rapid information from offshore financial entities has to do with the account holders which often do not correspond to the names under investigation but hold the names of often fictitious companies or numbers.         

In 2005, and again in 2009, it was suggested by some Portuguese and British media that José Sócrates allegedly waived environmental restrictions in 2002 to enable planning permission to build the Freeport designer outlet on or near marshland considered a waterfowl wildlife reserve within the Tejo Estuary Protected Zone.

It was also alleged that his uncles and a cousin were involved in the scheme as well as Charles Smith, who was made a legal suspect.

José Sócrates has always denied the allegations vociferously and the Portuguese authorities have so far maintained that the Prime Minister is not under investigation or a suspect but could be considered a witness, while the Serious Fraud Office refused to confirm the veracity of reports emanating in Portugal.

José Sócrates also stated the Freeport project was in due compliance with all legal requirements at the time.