Corruption probe described as “much more serious than Operation Influencer”
With critics already suggesting the corruption investigations reverberating around Madeira are “much more serious” than Operation Influencer, the probe that brought down the mainland’s Socialist government, pressure today is mounting on the archipelago’s president to throw in the towel.
Miguel Albuquerque has been cited as an official suspect in one of the three investigations that saw almost 300 criminal investigators descend on Madeira, courtesy of two Air Force planes yesterday morning. He was saved from arrest – unlike the mayor of Funchal and two businessmen – “by very little”, suggests Correio da Manhã this morning, explaining that the law doesn’t allow for the regional president to be arrested, unless he is caught ‘in flagrante’ for a wilful crime. It could still be that Justice makes a request for his immunity from prosecution to be lifted – but this far, that has not happened.
That does not mean that there is no pressure on Albuquerque. There is enormous pressure – not least the moral obligation to fall on his sword, much as Portugal’s prime minister António Costa did when his name was even tentatively linked to Operation Influencer.
This is not the first time this year that Miguel Albuquerque’s moral compass has been seen to have peculiar bearings, stresses leader writer Carlos Rodrigues. In September, ahead of the regional elections, Albuquerque pledged he would resign if his (PSD) party was not returned with a majority. It wasn’t – and yet he stayed on, forging agreement with allies in the minority.
Now, he is apparently ready to stay on even when implicated in a “very serious” corruption probe, of the calibre that recently saw the country’s prime minister resign.
“Something is going wrong in a country in which a politician thinks it is normal to govern under these circumstances (…) Albuquerque embodies the very worst in politics. He has become an itinerant ambassador for populism in Portugal: we look at him and see a regime that is rotting from the inside”.
Even worse, is what this episode will be doing to the electorate’s perspective of the PSD. Leader of the party Luís Montenegro has wriggled out of questions over whether or not Albuquerque should resign, suggesting there are “many differences” between this case (or cases) and Operation Influencer – something commentators disagree: they see two parties riven by allegations of cronyism and corruption, and believe Montenegro should too.
To be fair, politics today is full of people who say they won’t do something one minute, only to do it the next: so the next few days could see a lot of changes.
Meantime, the calendar for this veritable bombshell continues: the airforce planes that carried investigators to Funchal yesterday, will be taking ‘the prisoners’ back to Lisbon today, to be presented before a judge in Lisbon before 2.15pm tomorrow.
According to reports, yesterday’s searches involved properties in Greater Lisbon, Braga, Porto, Paredes, Aguiar de Beira and Ponta Delgada (Azores), as well as Funchal, Madeira.
As has been explained, there are three investigations involved – all of them said to involve the alleged ‘diversion’ of public money and ‘innumerous crimes of corruption’ over the last seven years.
A source for the Public Prosecutor’s Office has described “damages to the public purse of hundreds of millions of euros”.
The three investigations appear to involve corruptive pacts with local business groups connected with tourism and real estate. These suspicions in many cases are not new: the case particularly said to be involving Miguel Albuquerque has been widely discussed in the past, with former MEP Ana Gomes having denounced it to the European Commission some years ago. At the time, Miguel Albuquerque refuted all insinuations, saying the deal in question had been “absolutely transparent”.
Talking on SIC television news last night, Ms Gomes – a regular political commentator for the channel – said she was surprised by the timing of yesterday’s searches.
“Why has it taken so long to carry out this investigation?” she wondered. “In this day and age, there are many things that make citizens wonder if, in fact, it’s not too much of a coincidence” bearing in mind the proximity of legislative elections…
Gomes believes that justice is losing credibility with “aspects of some cases” that the Public Prosecutor’s Office “has promoted”, says SIC.
Ms Gomes also referred to the Madeira Free Trade Zone (involved in the probe affecting Miguel Albuquerque) as a “real offshore, a den of organised crime“, which constitutes a “great injustice to the people themselves”.