“Operação Areeiro” now sees four defendants out on bail and suspended from their duties.
The scandal – centring on the falsification of Social Security declarations – saw as many as 80 police officers attached to the country’s anti-corruption unit swoop on offices and homes up and down the country last week, initially taking two high-ranking Social Security officials into custody.
The following day saw reports that three more arrests had been made – but this information was later amended to just two: an accountant and a lawyer.
All four men, reported to be aged from 41 to 57, are now out on bail, prohibited from being in contact with one another.
The lawyer has had to put up a €30,000 bail surety and surrender his passport.
As we reported on our website last week, the scandal involves a scheme that saw companies with debts given a clean bill of health so that they could pitch for State tenders.
Media reports claim that each ‘clean bill of health’ was arranged by the Social Security officials – one the director of client management in Lisbon, the other a subordinate – for anything from €2,000 to €5,000.
The scheme thus “damaged the State” (as the company’s debts remained unpaid) and “perverted the rules of the market”, which favours debt-free companies in public tenders over companies that have debts.
It also saw State employees, a lawyer and an accountant actively benefiting from corruption.
According to Lusa, the defendants face varying charges of passive corruption and falsification of documents.
Elsewhere, newspapers covering the scandal refer to an 18-month long investigation.
The two Social Security officials, described as having shown “outward signs of wealth” incompatible with their salaries, are believed to be facing jail terms, if found guilty, of up to eight years.
Meantime, national tabloid Correio da Manhã stresses that “the extension of corruption in State institutions connected to this scheme is far from being controlled”.
Further arrests, within both Social Security and the Tax department, are apparently expected.
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]