A shot of the idyllic Quinta do Arco rural tourism hotel

Offices of president of regional government of Madeira searched as Public Ministry investigates allegations of corruption

The offices of Miguel Albuquerque, the PSD head of Madeira’s regional government have been searched this week as part of the Public Ministry investigation into a business deal with a real estate company representing the Pestana hotel group within the context of the archipelago’s Zona Franca ‘tax haven’.

The deal involved a business transaction known as ‘ajuste direto’ (meaning no other parties were even considered) between the Pestana Group and the government’s development society (Sociedade de Desenvolvimento da Madeira, or SDM), and the sale of Quinta do Arco (which used to belong to Miguel Albuquerque) for the installation of a hotel.

According to information gathered by negocios online, DCIAP (the central department of investigation and penal action) has opened an inquiry with the reference 455/19.OT9FNC for suspicions of corruption, malfeasance, and economic participation in business.

At issue is the concession by SDM ‘tax free’ status to Pestana for the Quinta do Arco deal which took place in 2017.

A Public Ministry investigation was opened in 2019 but only now have searches taken place on government offices, “to recover documentation relating to the direct adjustment”.

In 2019, the Account Court considered that the dealings that put SDM in charge of the archipelago’s International Business Centre were already “wounded by illegality”.

Meantime Miguel Albuquerque has told journalists that his “conscience is tranquil”.

“I have 25 years of public life in addition to my profession which I have exercised for many years, serving my region and my country”, he said. “I have nothing to hide and I am perfectly with a tranquil conscience, since I did not promote any illegality or illegal act. The Madeirans and the Portuguese know me. Throughout my public life I have never been someone for these kind of schemes to violate the law”.

Mr Albuquerque is a lawyer by profession. He told reporters that he was surprised by the way this news was published, bearing in mind the case has been public knowledge for years.

Indeed all the documents on the issues in question are in the public domain and the “whole process was conducted in an absolutely transparent way” having been started “a long time before the regional government took office in April 2015”.

Mr Albuquerque has asked for investigators to “be quick” with their probe, “so that the truth of the facts is ascertained, and any doubts – albeit shamefully raised by anonymous complaints and clearly identified political agendas – are duly clarified”.

Yesterday’s searches targeted the offices of SDM, two private residences, two commercial societies, as well as the offices of the Presidency of the regional government, Secretary-General of the Presidency, Vice-presidency, Regional Secretary of the Economy, Regional Secretary of Tourism and Culture, the regional tax department, regional offices of parliamentary affairs, public relations and coordination.

DCIAP has said the inquiry is bound by Portugal’s ‘secrecy of justice’. 

Madeiraislandnews writes that at stake in this investigation “is the relationship between Miguel Albuquerque’s private real estate businesses and the direct adjustment of the concession of the Zona Franca da Madeira to the Pestana Group, a matter that became public in December 2019. 

“At the heart of the matter is the business of the Rural Tourism unit, located on the north coast of the island of Madeira at Sítio da Lagoa – Arco de São Jorge, equipped with outdoor pools, with emphasis on the rose garden with more than 1,700 species of roses. A project that was sold to Grupo Pestana, which was then one of the partners of SDM.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com