Net widens on Altice multi-million euro corruption probe
Altice co-founder Armando Pereira – described in reports as Portugal’s richest man – is still in police custody this morning, having spent the last four nights behind bars, awaiting judicial interrogation.
In the days since authorities swooped on the homes and places of work of “senior Altice officials” last Thursday, Mr Pereira’s ‘right hand man’ Hernani Vaz Antunes has ‘presented himself for questioning’ (denying that he was ‘on the run’) and the alleged sums of this purported corrupt scheme have continued to climb into the hundreds of millions of euros.
This morning Altice Portugal’s co-CEO Armando Fonseca has also suspended his various functions within the group.
A statement by the France-based telecoms group that owns MEO – Portugal’s largest telecoms brand – explains that with this decision, Fonseca “unequivocally intends to protect the interests of the Altice group, and all its brands in a process that is public where, apparently, acts to be investigated occurred during the period in which he exercised the executive functions of president of Altice Portugal”.
Fonseca’s decision to step temporarily aside follows press reports that public prosecutors suspect he benefited from the allegedly corrupt practices, and generally ‘facilitated’ operations led by Antunes/ Armando Pereira.
This criminal probe has been dubbed “Operação Picoas” and focuses on suspicions of crimes of corruption, fiscal fraud and money-laundering.
On Thursday when DCIAP inspectors swooped on 90 separate addresses (homes and non-residential, including companies and law firms in various parts of the country), press reports referred to a scheme in which both Altice and the State were believed to have been ‘damaged’ to the tune of several hundreds of millions of euros.
“The investigation believes that with the help of third parties, Armando Pereira, co-founder of MEO’s owner and one of France’s richest men, simulated property deals and concealed profits from the sale of assets, including former PT properties”, said SIC television news.
“One of the deals now under investigation involves the sale of four buildings in the capital for €15 million, but authorities believe they are just the tip of the iceberg”.
TVI however had a few more details concerning the sale of the four buildings in Lisbon: “The buyers of the buildings have links to a business circuit that was set up in Braga, the Madeira Free Trade Zone and Dubai, with a scheme to circulate capital and return it to the sellers, resulting in losses for Altice Internacional and the State”, said the television station.
Among those arrested on Thursday were Hernani Vaz Antunes’ two daughters, Jessica and Melissa, both of whom are suspected of acting as ‘fronts’ within the suspected illicit scheme.
Judge Carlos Alexandre – the man dubbed ‘superjudge’ in the days of mega corruption investigations like Marquês and Monte Branco – is understood to have begun questioning Jessica on Saturday, to be continued today.
Tabloid Correio da Manhã stresses that the first whiff of these allegedly corrupt schemes came well over a year ago in an exposé by Sábado. “On this occasion (March 2021) the magazine revealed that the two businessmen (Vaz Antunes and Armando Pereira) were buying Altice properties at bargain-basement prices. The magazine described how they had constructed a network of front people and businesses that passed as intermediaries in relations with other suppliers, obliged to pay to sell to Altice”.
Armando Pereira himself has an intriguing back story in business dealings. He is understood to have emigrated to France from Portugal at the age of 14 “with only the clothes he stood in”. He went on to work on building sites, before becoming a plumber, and “then later began installing telephone cables in ditches”, says CM, who stresses he was known as “implacable in business”.
From the installation of telephone cables came a partnership with another telecoms ‘legend’ Patrick Drahi, and together the two businessmen founded Altice, making millions.
Today, 71-year-old Mr Pereira will very possibly be hoping to be allowed home on bail (to his holiday home in Vieira do Minho, Braga district). His lawyer Pedro Marinho Falcão has said his client is “tranquil and with the desire to explain the facts”.
He added nonetheless that “no night in jail is comfortable”.