Porto judges rule that crimes committed by politicians should see them go to jail

In a ruling that could have direct implications on any trial resulting from the Operation Marquês corruption probe, Porto judges have effectively said that crimes committed by politicians are “especially censurable” and should see them sent to jail.

The actual words were more diplomatic: “Penalties should not be suspended”.

But the gist is the same, and it sees former Socialist MP Armando Vara – one of the many defendants cited in Marquês – closer than ever to his five-year jail term handed out for ‘trafficking of influences’ in the Face Oculta corruption trial that still sees so many of the ‘guilty’ eluding jail on the basis of appeals.

Indeed, following the Porto judges’ ruling published yesterday afternoon, Vara (and others handed out sentences as a result of Face Oculta) no longer have any further avenues for appeal, explains tabloid Correio da Manhã.

Only the “Scrap King of Ovar” Manuel Godinho – originally handed a 17-and-a-half year prison sentence which has now been reduced to 15 years 10 months – is eligible to take the fight to remain free to the country’s Supreme Court, says the paper – and even that “isn’t certain”.

As television news channels are reporting today, the ruling means Armando Vara may well have to defend himself at any future trial resulting from Marquês from the confines of a prison cell.

Needless to say, Vara’s lawyer has told reporters that he is shocked and disillusioned by the decision and will now be looking at grounds for appeal on “matters of process”.

Tiago Rodrigues Bastos explained he still had not been given the full transcript of the judges’ ruling, but CM claims to have had at least some limited form of access.

In its story today, the paper says the judges not only agreed with the understanding of the original trial panel, but stressed that “in a time of profound economic crisis, the feeling of social reprobation for this kind of criminality is very high, and that political dishonesty damages democracy”.

The judges went further, writes the paper: “People with political responsibilities who take advantage of their position to incur benefits for themselves or third parties are not tolerated by the community”.

Bizarrely, defence lawyer Bastos suggested the judgement had been influenced by the desire to make an example of Face Oculta’s gallery of defendants: “This is not the objective of penalties”, he said, which should – in his understanding – be more about “resocialisation” and “not creating martyrs or examples for society”.

CM adds that Porto’s appeal judges maintained all Vara’s ‘fines’, while elsewhere the prison term of former Secretary of State José Penedo was reduced by almost two years (to three years three months).

For now, all the appellants remain free, awaiting the full publication of the judges’ ruling, and decisions by defence counsels on how to move forwards.

As national media has been at pains to explain, the Face Oculta trial began in 2011, following an investigation started in 2009.

Six years on, and the main defendants found guilty after one of the longest most expensive trials in Portugal’s history have still to accept their condemnations.

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