Carla Alves
Unlikely to be smiling today, this is one of the images that circulated yesterday when Ms Alves was first named as the country's new Secretary of State for Agriculture. Image: Carla Alves' Facebook page

Newly sworn-into government with “several bank accounts seized”

Secretary of State for Agriculture involved in PJ probe into suspicions of corruption

No sooner had she been sworn into her new government post than Secretary of State for Agriculture Carla Alves was all over the tabloid front pages.

It transpires that she has had “several bank accounts seized” by the Public Prosecution Service following an exhaustive PJ police investigation into the activity of her husband, former mayor of Vinhas Américo Pereira.

Correio da Manhã has broken the news, which is now being picked up by other media sources (CM was also the paper that broke the story that precipitated the government’s state of political crisis just before Christmas).

Today the paper outlines what it says the PJ describes as “the miracle of multiplication”: Ms Alves bank accounts, or rather bank accounts where she was a joint title holder, “received much more money than she effectively declared”.

Public prosecutors “talk of the crime of active corruption and prevarication” in relation to her husband, who they want to see go to trial.

Américo Pereira’s “joint accounts with Carla Alves continue seized and the accusation wants around €700,000 returned to the State – because it is not possible to prove their provenance”, says CM.

The back story

This centres on what Correio da Manhã describes as “a scheme that involves the sale of Seminary land”. 

According to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, with this scheme, Américo Pereira and the company he managed “obtained high profits to the detriment of the municipality and the Seminary’s treasury”.

Prosecutors also defend that the “defendants in this case (which include the rector of the Seminary) obtained illicit dividends worth €1.1 million relating to the valuation of the land and the amounts they appropriated. These amounts have been seized”.

Carla Alves is not a defendant in the case, she is simply linked to it by dint of the accounts shared with her husband. But as CM’s director-general Eduardo Dâmaso explains in an editorial alongside his paper’s many details “if some of the many questions this case raises in relation to Carla Alves were not answered before she was sworn in to her new position, this means the PS party and the government have given up on promoting a pattern of ethics in government and in the State. It is not a matter of whether (Ms Alves) has been accused or not; whether she is an official suspect (defendant) or not. It is a question of decency as a minimum condition for holding political office, defending the public interest and managing money that belongs to everyone”.

The miracle of multiplication 

PJ police investigations go right back to 2013. Says CM, between July and December that year, the Carla Alves and her husband jointly declared earnings of €44,000, while €54,000 entered into their bank accounts.

“The following year, the miracle of multiplying money happened again. Both declared that they earned €135,000 but €180,000 was deposited into the same bank accounts.

“In 2015, the growth of money without explanation increased. Carla Alves and Américo Pereira, she a member of town hall staff, he the mayor of the municipality, declared income of €135,000 for the year. Into the bank a total of €338,000 entered, during the same period.

2016 saw the couple declare €66,000 “but €90,000 went into their bank accounts” – and 2017 saw similar: the couple declared €61,000 when €107,000 went into the bank accounts.

And so it goes on, with CM adding irony to the account, describing ‘disastrous years’ with relatively low declared earnings, and “better” years – like 2018 where the couple declared €159,000 but in which €228,000 was actually seen flowing into their joint accounts.

“The year before the pandemic was also glorious”, says CM. “They earned €99,000 but in the accounts, at the same time, €224,000 circulated. This increase while Portuguese citizens were living through one of the largest crises of the decade, the Covid-19 pandemic. The couple ‘earned’ €100,000 but €264,000 entered their accounts”

Carla Alves “involved in another controversy”

CM describes “another controversy”, in which Ms Alves, who in 2017 led a national association of pig breeders (a special variety of pig known as porco bísaro), awarded a €33,000 direct contract (meaning public money awarded without recourse to tender) to a firm at the time represented by her brother in law.

And then there is the small matter of her having been allowed by the town hall to “accumulate private activities” (meaning business) with municipal duties, which was later “considered illegal”, says the paper.

All in all, this has not been a good start to the government’s desire to move on from the festive fervour of scandal. 

Will this see the 12th casualty of the absolute majority government that only came into office last March? Watch this space…

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com