PJ hones in on ‘sinister unbelly’ of pork knuckle business between Portugal and Venezuela

Almost two years since the story was mooted by an ‘alternative news channel’, mainstream media in Portugal is catching up with the web of intrigue involving the export of tons of Portuguese pork to Venezuela (click here).

Back in 2018, the topic was ‘hot news’ as container loads of pork knuckle or ‘pernil’ as it’s called here ‘went missing’ at the precise moment in the year that Portuguese emigrés in the South American country were clamouring for it.

It transpired that the problem had more to do with president Nicolás Maduro owing suppliers around €40 million. But the hue and cry was so strident that the actual business of supplying Venezuela with Portuguese meat suddenly came under the microscope – and sure enough there appeared to be some fairly vast grey areas.

The more investigators probed, the more curious the situation appeared. Involved in the companies exporting the meat were ‘big names’ in politics and business.

As online Jornal Tornado said at the time: “In numerous cases the people in these private business deals are exactly the same as those in public business that involve colossal bank loans that are ultimately paid by all of us…”

Names like former Socialist minister Mário Lino, and former centre-right deputy prime minister Paulo Portas bobbed to the surface, although today Expresso is stressing that Mário Lino, although a director in one of the suspect companies is not himself considered a suspect.

Operation Navidad (the Spanish for Christmas, because ‘pernil’ is a Christmas delicacy’) involves potential losses to the State of €7 million, explains Expresso.

The probe has been led by the PJ and AT tax inspectors, and is looking into business between the Venezuelan State and a Lisbon company called Iguarivarius during the years 2013-2016.

Without naming names, the paper says five suspects have finally received official ‘arguido’ status, three of them being companies.

At issue is the contention that Iguarivarius received elevated profits from the sales of dozens of tons of meat, and didn’t declare these profits with the tax department.

The deals involved around €60 million, says Expresso, which should have translated into IRS and IRC tax payments ‘that were never paid’.

This seems largely because the meat business involved offshore companies that issued ‘false receipts and paid illegal commissions’.

Expresso adds that one of the directors involved was ‘formally detained because he had in his possession “a 9mm pistol transformed into a machine gun”.

The more this story goes on, the more bizarre it sounds. Expresso concludes that “apart from the crime of possession of an illegal weapon, suspects are being cited for tax evasion and money laundering.

“Contacted by Expresso, a source for the company said it had “no statements to make” about searches led by the PJ and AT in Lisbon yesterday (Wednesday).

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