A syndicate of fraudsters, who offered a package deal of a trip to Portugal from Madeira, including a crash-driving course, recently received heavy prison sentences.
During the court case, the whole operation was likened to the workings of a travel agency. But, in place of holidays and rest, it was offering passage to Portugal, board and a guaranteed driving licence for 4,000 euros in a scheme that went undetected for five years until 2002. Most of the scheme’s clients were young people arriving from Madeira to do both the theory and practical exam at the intensive examination centre at Tábua in Coimbra.
The whole process ended in court recently, with seven of the 23 defendants sentenced to jail terms of between three and four years – another 10 received suspended sentences and six people were acquitted. Judges considered that the architect of the corruption scheme was Virgílio Sobral de Sousa, ex-socialist councillor of Amadora Câmara and head of the firm that managed the driving centre – he received a four-year prison sentence.
The scheme enabled unfit drivers to receive driving licences after the payment of a fixed fee. Students would sit the theory exam as normal, but were given help to pass the exam via facial movements, coughing and eye contact. In the practical exam, potentially unfit drivers were passed and their infractions overlooked by corrupt examiners who joined the illicit scheme.
Some of the material was gathered from listening devices, but other prosecution evidence also came from a former director of the Tábua examination centre. Among those jailed were two examiners and an instructor who were found guilty of receiving money to pass candidates.