With any thought of possible criminal charges ruled out due to the expiry of judicial time limits, Brussels’ interpretation of the archived Tecnoforma controversy has at last been published.
In a nutshell: there was fraud, and Brussels wants its money back: all €6,747,462 million of it.
Says Sábado, OLAF, the European Anti-Fraud Office concluded – two years ago – that between 2000 and 2013 “serious irregularities or even frauds were committed in the management of European funds” that passed through Tecnoforma, a company that used to employ former prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho.
As Público has remarked, Public Ministry investigators and those working for OLAF “could hardly be more at odds”.
The first “did not find anything particularly serious” in the way the company acted, while the second “did not hesitate” to classify the company’s behaviour as fraudulent.
The decision over what will happen next however “has not yet been taken”.
OLAF embarked on its odyssey of investigation in 2012 as a result of a complaint lodged by Euro MP and anti-corruption watchdog Ana Gomes.
Says Público, it employed two of its “veteran investigators in frauds involving the procurement and use of European funds” – both of them Portuguese.
Cláudia Filipe and Artur Domingos had two separate inquiries to follow: the first involved allegations that Tecnoforma had received political favours under the so-called Foral programme – administered by former secretary of state Miguel Relvas – and the second centred on similar suspicions involving training schemes operated by the company for municipal aerodromes and heliports.
Both investigations involved scrutiny in the way Tecnoforma used its national and European funding.
But as European investigators trolled through all the facts, investigations – going in a seemingly different direction – were also being conducted in Portugal.
As prosecutors here archived the cases, OLAF discovered fraud, saying, says “things like this: In most audited projects, the company includes the costs of depreciation of its buildings, the rent of the premises in which administrative and financial services work, the administration, reprographic services and training rooms where other training takes place without any relation to the training covered by these projects.
“All expenses related to the operation of its activities are charged to the projects, although it is apparent from the financial and economic statements that a very significant part of its activity takes place in Angola.
“By way of example, OLAF indicates that the expenditure listed in the accounts of these projects from 2004 onwards involves houses owned by the company in Angola, as well as top-of-the-range vehicles, refrigerators, freezer cabinets, generators, washing machines, mattresses, cabinets and tables, etc.
The presentation of these costs for co-financing by European funds, said the OLAF report “seems to aim to increase the company’s profits”.
This was not all. OLAF discovered “irregular situations of duplication of costs” between Tecnoforma and a company hired to do the accounting of its projects, which again appeared to be designed “to unduly benefit Tecnoforma”.
The “financial carrousel”, as Público calls it, involved the emission of bills for “services that did not exist, or for inflated amounts…” and clearly became addictive to all those involved.
Said OLAF investigators “this situation could have originated in the personal relationships and or existing politics” between the main players.
Público adds that OLAF considered the issue “exceeded the competences” of Europe’s anti-fraud office. But in 2015 when it presented its report, Portuguese authorities effectively sat on it for over a year before the document was handed to PJ judicial police.
The PJ’s financial skills director of then signed off a short report that “sounded strong doubts” on OLAF’s conclusions, particularly when it came to the “existence of frauds”, says the paper.
Since then, the issue has basically been kicked around by various authorities, with the PJ finally mounting searches on Tecnoforma and other premises only nine months ago.
The bottom line: no indications that there had been any kind of illicit activities, but more likely “divergent interpretations” of the facts.
Says Público, the final decision now rests with the authority that manages the Operational Program for Human Potential (POPH).
The paper carries a separate story to explain that even if there were crimes in this long-drawn-out controversy that dates back now so many years that many will have forgotten about it, the years that have passed means judicial time limits will have (conveniently) elapsed.