New investigations into “tentacular fire cartel”

Almost a year since the investigation was first mooted, Público confirms that judicial authorities are probing allegations that Portugal has been involved for years in a Spanish ‘fire cartel’ – a scheme organised to win massively inflated contracts for fire-fighting planes in Spain, Portugal and even Italy.

This week’s ‘news’ is that the cartel appears to have extended to contracts for the transport of patients. Politicians are said to be involved.

Says Público, there have been at least 20 arrests in Spain while here the hunt is on for the ‘facilitator’ whose identity remains unknown (click here).

Whistleblower Francisco Alandí was quoted by Spain’s El Mundo newspaper as saying the facilitator “had a list of contacts in Portuguese institutions to secure contracts”.

Alandí used to work for Avialsa, the Spanish company at the centre of the alleged ‘cartel’.

He has already produced a number of incriminating emails from Avialsa’s former boss Vicente Huerta, in which the latter talks about Portugal being a major “meal ticket” which the cartel should “attack with every available arsenal”.

Huerta is among those arrested in Spain.

Público explains that the “years of the cartel’s greatest activity in Portugal were 2006-2007” though contracts awarded up until 2015 are also being investigated.

In 2010, the cartel (also including companies Faasa, Espejo, Martinez Ridão, Cagisa and Inaer – later renamed Babock) “will have shared profits resulting from the hiring out of firefighting planes to the Portuguese State in the order of €1.6 million – profits that quadrupled the real cost of the service”.

Público adds that company bosses “used to meet to discuss their strategies” at a roadside hotel in Andalucia.

“Babock had a Portuguese subsidiary which won several contracts for the transport of patients by air for INEM” aside from the business it gained for firefighting, said the paper.

Three years ago when Babock was still Inaer, Portugal’s accounts court vetoed a €3.9 million deal on the basis that it was “manifestly illegal”, Público adds – stressing that “no one in the firm has been available to talk to the paper”, while all the companies cited in the investigation continue to win public contracts “because the trial still hasn’t stated”.

Público says the probe into the Portuguese branch of the “Cartel do Fogo” is now in the hands of the PJ, with the Attorney General’s Office for the time being confirming nothing.

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