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Operation Ether sees new heads roll

Following on from the preventive custody of tourism boss of the north Melchior Moreira, Operation Ether has been gathering steam, seeing a major purge ongoing this week and another set of heads ‘rolling’.

The most ‘newsworthy’ so far appears to be Adelino Mendes, the departmental head of the office of the Secretary of State for Civil Protection.

Mendes “is the vice-president of a firm called Somos Ambiente (We are the environment), which is dedicated to the treatment and transport of hospital waste and which has, over the last three years, signed contracts to the value of €6.4 million”, writes tabloid Correio da Manhã.

The contracts were signed with a larger organisation in the same sector – SUCH – which is said to have an annual budget this year of €43 million.

CM presents Ether as a “gigantic fraud that involves EU funds”.

At issue are the suspicions of fraud in the obtaining of subsidies, qualified fiscal fraud, money laundering and document falsification.

Says the paper, the value of funds illegally obtained comes to around 15 million euros.

Ether first arrived on the media scene last October, with the shock arrest of Melchior Moreira (click here).

Further arrests followed (click here) but it was never very clear what the investigation was all about.

Now CM seems to have nailed it, explaining ‘official suspects’ as of this week number 73 and there are some from companies in Germany “also in the area of the treatment of hospital waste”.

According to the paper, “these particular companies circulated invoices and fictitious services among various institutions in diverse countries”.

In other words, Ether’s ‘pong’ extends way beyond Portugal and the Portuguese.

For now, the case is in the hands of DCIAP, the central department of investigation and penal action and under ‘secrecy of justice’.

The secrecy ruling hasn’t stopped various aspects of the case from circulating, particularly the suggestion that the illegally obtained EU funds “destined to create wealth and generate employment in various areas where instead used to purchase luxury cars and houses”.

Other ‘big names’ slapped with ‘arguido’ (official suspect) status include the president of SUCH, Paulo Jorge Rendeiro Sousa, but for now there have been no new detentions.

The investigation is continuing, “with a view to collecting further information” concludes Observador.

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