Artist's impression of one of the projects at the heart of this investigation: Skyline, a tower block with 28-storeys
Artist's impression of one of the projects at the heart of this investigation: Skyline, a tower block with 28-storeys

Operation Babel: suspects face first questions

As drip-drip of alleged high-level corruption fills nation’s press

The seven men arrested as part of Operation Babel earlier this week are facing their first round of questioning this afternoon, following two days and nights in police custody

Deputy mayor of Vila Nova de Gaia council, Patrocínio Azevedo (PS), his lawyer João Lopes, Israeli businessman Elad Dror, real estate promoter Paulo Malafaia, two employees of Porto City Council and an employee of the Regional Directorate of Culture of the North will get a better idea of what public prosecutors have discovered in what PJ police described on Tuesday as “the vitiation of rules and instruction of urban licensing processes in favour of developers associated with projects of high density and magnitude worth, around €300 million”.

It is now clear that the name Babel was used for this investigation because of Elad Dror’s ambition – among dozens of real estate projects – is/ was to build the highest building in Portugal.

According to various sources, the Skyline project was ‘at risk’ due to plans for the expansion of the Porto Metro; another project was in danger of losing construction area due to the discovery of remains of archeological importance – hence Dror’s alleged approach to Azevedo to help overcome obstacles that might be in his way.

Azevedo was allegedly ‘corrupted’, with gifts of expensive watches, and money.

According to some reports, this investigation has identified large wads of cash being exchanged in public lavatories… 

At this stage, 12 defendants have been constituted ‘arguidos’, while the seven men arrested are indicted for the practice of various crimes of receiving or offering undue advantage, active and passive corruption, prevarication and abuse of power, the PJ has reported.

Lusa adds that Patrocínio Azevedo, “who is in charge of town planning and land policy, town planning licensing, municipal works and municipal roads, is suspected of receiving kickbacks of more than €120,000” in cash. This is before one considers the watches that media sources suggest were each worth several thousand euros.

Paulo Malafaia meantime is already a defendant in Operation Vortex – another investigation into alleged real estate corruption, for which the former mayor of Espinho is being held in preventive detention.

A number of ‘aside points’ have been raised in this investigation: Patrocíno Azevedo’s immediate boss, the mayor of Vila Nova da Gaia, is a defendant also – but not in this case: in another to do with question of public contracts, says Correio da Manhã, while Elad Dror is a Portuguese citizen since 2020, having received his certification of being a descendant of Sephardic Jews persecuted in Portugal over 500 years ago, and for whom the Nationality Law was enacted (this law is due to end in December this year).

Lusa adds that “during the police operation, according to the PJ, 55 searches were carried out in various parts of the country, in local authorities and various public services, as well as companies related to the urban universe.

“The councils of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, the Metro do Porto, Eduardo Souto Moura’s architecture office and Braga City Council were some of the places searched”.

Today’s questioning may end with defendants hearing bail terms, or it may continue into Friday, with them remaining in police custody.

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