Panama “hides” José Sócrates’ millions along with money from Algarve tourist complexes

With fallout from the disclosure of the Panama Papers continuing to inflame world opinion, Expresso newspaper has written an eight-page exposé on the “Portuguese connections” – shining the spotlight on tourist complexes in the Algarve, lawyers offices, ex-ministers and current politicians. Elsewhere, tabloids like Correio da Manhã have thrown up all the predictable names, from Ricardo Salgado and BES to José Sócrates who is believed to have his alleged dirty millions all snaffled away in various cited offshore companies.

According to reports, Portugal’s Public Ministry had its eye on the data held by Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca for “more than three years”, as a result of investigations into not only the BES financial scandal, but Monte Branco corruption as well.

But what the Panama Papers has served to do is expose new areas (companies and people) where tax evasion is suspected.

As experts have constantly explained in this ever-developing story, tax avoidance is one thing – both accepted and legal – but evasion is quite another.

Thus as national media positively buzzes with reports affirming “Portuguese people have €9.4 billion in offshore companies” and that since the end of the adjustment programme “money entering tax havens (like Panama) has skyrocketed”, the AT tax authority is said to be preparing to send one of its own to the United States, to study the 11.5 million leaked documents and how they relate to 244 national companies, 255 shareholders, 23 private clients and 34 beneficiaries.

The idea is that information will then be cross-referenced against the relevant tax declarations to see whether Portugal’s VIPs are up to no good.

But as a petition set up to demand an end to fiscal secrecy is about to be launched with the backing of Portuguese Euro MPs Ana Gomes and Marisa Matias, the country’s best read tabloid is going for the jugular, suggesting alleged bribes to José Sócrates from the owners of the Algarve’s tourist complex Vale do Lobo are among the millions that have been detected in Mossack Fonseca’s leaked documents.

“Laundered through Espírito Santo Enterprizes”, the millions (as many as 23) were then “redistributed”, claims Correio da Manhã – stressing Vale do Lobo owner Hélder Bataglia is believed to have been responsible for at least €12 million of the funds which he paid as a “commission” for the controversial €194 million loan “conceded by Caixa Geral de Depósitos”.

To be fair, none of these allegations are new. What is new are the ‘other names’ that have surfaced as a result of the Panama Papers: Luís Portela, head of Portuguese pharmaceutical group Bial, former Benfica president Manuel Vilarinho, law firm Abreu Advogados and the number of tourist complexes from the Algarve that have been mentioned.

This far, Expresso has simply said the complexes are “already being investigated” by the paper. In other words, more information is expected to emerge as the brouhaha shows no signs of abating.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]