Madeira airport
The number of investigators/ prosecutors flown into Madeira over this investigation has raised questions. Image: Homem de Gouveia/ Lusa

Madeira corruption suspects face first formal questioning in Lisbon

Name of new regional governor of Madeira delayed

The three men arrested during the high profile searches conducted mainly in Madeira last Wednesday – including the now resigned mayor of Funchal – face their first formal questioning by a judge this afternoon.

This means former mayor Pedro Calado, businessmen Avelino Farinha and Custódio Correia have already been in preventive custody for five nights.

The court proceedings are scheduled to begin at 2pm today at Lisbon’s TIC (central court of criminal investigation) at Campus de Justiça. They were to have been questioned on Saturday, but for various ‘bureaucratic reasons’, this had to be delayed.

According to a court source, the case has been assigned to judge Jorge Bernardes de Melo, with questioning to begin with businessman Custódio Correia, the main shareholder in the Socicorreia construction group, followed by Avelino Farinha, leader of AFA construction group – and finally the former mayor.

Meantime newspaper stories delve into the suspicions hanging over the three – as well as over the now resigned regional governor of Madeira, Miguel Albuquerque, who has still not tabled a date for requesting the lifting of his parliamentary immunity, and therefore has no date for being formally questioned.

Indeed, Albuquerque was meant to be extremely busy today chairing the meeting of the PSD Madeira party which was expected to choose his successor later this afternoon (see update below).

This is another ‘kink’ in this bizarre story: while Miguel Albuquerque resigned his position as regional governor of Madeira, which he has been since 2015 (previously being the mayor of Funchal for no less than 19 years) he has not resigned his position as the leader of the PSD party in Madeira

As has been explained, the arrests last week centre on suspicions of the taking and receiving of bribes, the taking of economic advantage of business, malfeasance in public office, undue receipt and/ or offer of advantage, abuse of power and influence peddling.

The timing of the probe – and the sheer size of the ‘apparatus’ mounted to effect the roughly 130 searches – has been criticised by former public prosecutors and remarked on by political commentators who suggest this looks very much like the flip side of the more common issue of ‘politics trying to meddle with justice’.

Why did public prosecutors decide to descend on the island of Madeira in two airforce jets last week? Satirical programme ‘Isto é Gozar com Quem Trabalha’ suggested last night it could be to do with the expense of lodging the 300 or so judicial personnel in hotels: Christmas/ New Year “would have been far too expensive”.

Whatever the reason for the timing, these searches – and the effective collapse of political stability in Madeira – could not come at a more sensitive time: the Azores go to the polls next Sunday, and the mainland is six weeks from its own forced elections.

Reports add that searches in Madeira have been continuing over the last few days: Saturday saw PJ inspectors exercise warrants at two lawyers’ offices on the island. 

UPDATE: “Albuquerque may stay in office a while longer”

While his co-suspects were being questioned by a judge in Lisbon this afternoon, Miguel Albuquerque was expected to announce the name of the person chosen to take his place as regional governor of Madeira (see new update below). But he is not expected to ‘stand down’ quite so quickly.

Political analyst Paulo Baldaia has explained, this is all to do with the Budget that the government has still not had time to pass (having only been sworn in a few months ago).

According to Baldaia, the most likely scenario is that Albuquerque stays in place, running Madeira, until the budget has been formally approved – at which point the successor that he will have helped choose will take over (see new update below).

That arrangement is expected to stay in place until the end of March, when President Marcelo has intimated he will be legally entitled to dissolve the Madeiran parliament and call new elections.

New update: Miguel Albuquerque presented the name of Eduardo Jesus, Tourism Secretary, but the representative of the Republic in Madeira (meaning President Marcelo’s authoritiy on the island) “has rejected the proposal”, writes SIC Notícias this afternoon.

“The situation will be re-evaluated in the coming days” – during which time it appears that Miguel Albuquerque will remain in his position as the leader of the Madeiran government.

Source material: LUSA/ Correio da Manhã/ SIC Notícias