José Berardo, image: António Cotrim/ Lusa

“Portugal owes me!” Berardo goes on the attack

Sues banks for €900 million, and wants PM among witnesses 

Disgraced art empresario José (Joe) Berardo has sought to turn the tables on all the banks trying to wrestle back almost a billion euros they lent him.

Says Expresso today he has lodged a counterclaim, demanding restitution of the money banks claim has been swindled from them, plus an extra €100 million for ‘moral damages’.

The case entered Lisbon County Court yesterday, and is in the name of Berardo as a private individual and his IPSS-supported Berardo Foundation.

The ‘defendants’ are three banks currently suing him (CGD, BCP and Novo Banco) as well as BES (currently in liquidation).

According to the case to which Expresso claims to have had access, “José Berardo considers the banks orchestrated a plan to make him responsible for all the failings of the financial system for which, in reality, they are all primarily responsible”, while the government ‘colluded’ in order to keep his art collection (this second part explained by Diário de Notícias).

The Madeiran entrepreneur proposes as witnesses prime minister António Costa and central bank governor Mário Conteno among others, and also wants access to documents from the former ministries of Culture and Justice, says Expresso.

His contention is that the banks that lent to him were ‘fragilised’ (had ‘feet of clay’) which ended up damaging him (and his reputation).

77-year-old Berardo presents himself as “the businessman who owes nothing to Portugal and to whom Portugal owes so much”.

His lawyers are particularly taken up with the fact that the government has prevented works of art in the Berardo Collection being removed from public use, even though the banks clearly want them ‘to pay the debts’ they claim Berardo owes.

Diário de Notícias explains that Berardo feels he became a “target to bring down” after his unfortunate hearing by a parliamentary committee back in 2019.

He claims the committee acted as a kind of ‘people’s judgement’, “giving no relevance to CGD’s management responsibilities and reasons for recapitalisation.

“By discrediting him, public opinion was led to believe he was responsible for the losses recorded by the banks”, says DN. This is something Berardo refutes wholeheartedly, saying he has “already paid more than €230 million to the banks” and intends to “complete negotiations to pay everything that is due”.

Indeed, the whole furore has, the complaint claims, managed to depict “a businessman who owes nothing to Portugal and to whom Portugal owes so much as a mere capitalist with the ability to evade paying loans, with direct repercussions on taxpayers who pay for deficits and the losses of banks”.

Joe Berardo is currently on the largest bail ever met in this country: €5 million, facing criminal charges of having ‘damaged’ State Bank CGD to the tune of €439 million.

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