Operation Perfect Storm: three defence ministry 'top dogs' among those arrested
Works on preparing the military hospital for Covid patients saw the initial estimate almost quadruple

Operation Perfect Storm: three defence ministry ‘top dogs’ among those arrested

Suspicions of corruption in deals with construction companies

News of the five arrests following police searches at the Ministry of Defence today have sent journalists scurrying after the details. Among those arrested were three former and current  ‘senior officials’ at the ministry.

Expresso names them as Alberto Coelho, a senior state official who led the Directorate General of Personnel and National Defence Resources for 18 years – and who has already been charged by the Public Ministry, plus Francisco Marques, Director of Infrastructure and Assets Services, and Paulo Branco, former Director of Financial Management of the Ministry of Defence.

Besides these three are two businessmen “from the construction sector”. 

In all, 19 people have been named as official suspects for suspected crimes of active and passive corruption, embezzlement, economic participation in business, abuse of power and money laundering.

At issue, says Expresso, are “suspicious contracts” drawn up between the ministry and several companies, between 2018 and 2021, which reportedly “harmed the Portuguese state” to the tune of “many thousands of euros”. 

More specifically, the contracts involve what Expresso calls “the slippage of adaptation works of the former Military Hospital of Belém, renamed Belém Military Support Centre”. 

These works went under the guise of being necessary for the treatment of patients covid-19. They amounted to €3.2 million euros, when the initial forecast was (only) €750,000.

An audit report found that the more than quadrupling of the cost of the works was classified as “confidential” by the then Defence Minister, João Gomes Cravinho – a decision he justified because “possible individual responsibilities” were at stake.

Following the report, Alberto Coelho was removed from the directorate-general by minister Cravinho, but later appointed president of the 100% state-owned Defence Technologies ETI (Empordef – Tecnologias de Informação) company. 

Mr Coelho, however, stepped down in August this year due to retirement, says Expresso.

The paper describes “Alberto Coelho’s connection to Defence” as  “as old as democracy: his first public functions were in 1976, in the Council of the Revolution. 

“A member of the CDS, he was president of the party’s National Council of Jurisdiction during the leadership of Francisco Rodrigues dos Santos.

The paper suggests the issue of excessive spending was “officially identified”, through an order from the then secretary of state Jorge Seguro Sanches, in July 2020.

Sanches stressed that he had not received clarifying answers from Alberto Coelho about who authorised an expenditure “more than three times higher than initially estimated”,  pointing out that the amounts “exceeded by far the ceiling to which the directors-general are authorised” to go. 

Sanches also claimed the slippage had not been communicated to members of the Government responsible, says Expresso. 

It is still not clear however who ‘blew the whistle’ to the extent that police/ the Public Ministry became involved. CNN Portugal suggests Operation Perfect Storm came from yet another ‘anonymous tip-off’.

natasha.donn@portgualresident.com