Sócrates’ Vale do Lobo connection – Did it extend to the manipulation of PROTAL?

As the nation’s media is focused on whether or not jailed former prime minister José Sócrates is about to leave jail for house arrest, Operation Marquês – the labyrinthine investigation with Sócrates as chief suspect – has shone full beam on the so-called “Vale do Lobo connection”, suggesting the paper-trail of millions involving directors at the luxury Algarve development could have been associated with a ‘seven-month’ delay in establishing the Algarve’s revised PROTAL – the state ‘masterplan’ that regulates property development.

The question, as explained in Diário de Notícias on Monday, is, to what extent did approval of the new PROTAL by Sócrates’ government in 2007 “benefit” Vale de Lobo?

And were subsequent million-euro transfers by Hélder Bataglia, one of VdL’s owners and a businessman already implicated in the BES scandal, somehow connected to this benefit?

“For now, the public prosecutor is simply working on the suspicion that the revision of PROTAL benefited the owners of Vale do Lobo resort,” writes DN.

Bataglia’s transfers, amounting to €12 million, have been linked to accounts at Swiss banks involving two suspects in Operation Marquês – one of whom, Carlos Santos Silva, is under suspicion for having used his accounts to ‘loan’ money to José Sócrates.

Elsewhere, a €2 million transfer from a wealthy Dutchman buying a prestige plot in VdL is described as having been paid into the account of the resort’s CEO Gaspar Ferreira “to ensure” that the Dutchman had “the right to choose the builder of his new home and its eventual design”.

This money too appears to have gone into the account of one of Operation Marquês’ principal defendants and from there it went into accounts held by Santos Silva – again, allegedly, for use by José Sócrates.

As Expresso explained recently, the Dutchman’s ‘story’ is being hotly refuted by VdL’s CEO, who is quoted as being prepared to take the matter “to the ultimate consequences” through the courts.

DN’s latest exposé stresses however that in 2007 former politician Macário Correia – currently facing his own set of criminal charges over alleged abuse of power during his time as mayor of Tavira – suggested there had been “some convenience” in Sócrates’ government’s delay in coming-clean with the new PROTAL.

Talking to TSF radio at the time – when he led the body of Algarve councils – Correia said: “It seems there has been some convenience in not publishing a document that disciplines the urbanising of the Algarve, to allow certain situations that the government wants to approve that conflict with this plan.”

Approached for a comment this week, Correia is described as having “no memory” of the period in question. DN however has recourse to back copies.

Reporter Carlos Rodrigues Lima explains that Correia was alluding to the fact that the 2007 PROTAL had a specific clause that effectively allowed building projects that came in before December 19 to ‘slip under the wire’ – with no possibility of retroactive legislation limiting them in any way.

Sócrates is understood to have had a four-hour grilling with state prosecutors on these points in which he would have been presented with “original documents” sent from Swiss banks proving the VdL connection, Correio da Manhã reported.

The scorching media spotlight on the Algarve’s flagship resort has caused the region’s oft-dubbed “Father of Tourism”, octogenarian Andre Jordan, to step into the fray saying the situation needs “urgent” resolution if it isn’t to start impacting on the “still fragile” recovery of both the Algarve’s tourism and property markets.

Intriguingly, Jordan raised another issue. In a statement released on Monday, he said: “The Caixa Geral de Depósitos financed the purchase of Vale do Lobo by the group led by Gaspar Ferreira, and itself invested €200 million in the company, which puzzled the market as it did not correspond with the habitual policy of a State bank.”

Much more, in other words, is still to come.

All eyes on Évora and Sócrates’ ‘release’ from jail to house arrest

As prosecutors attempt to join the endless threads of alleged multi-million-euro corruption, the nation’s press has been reporting that the Public Ministry is ready to relax its terms of detention regarding Sócrates, considering he “no longer poses a risk” to the investigation.

But as much is made of the former PM’s refusal to countenance “house arrest on an electronic bracelet”, it has to be remembered that this is a man who has spent almost seven months in jail with no formal charges having been made.

We are told he faces myriad corruption, fraud and money-laundering allegations, but there is still a total absence of formal charges. Thus what his release could mean for the PS (Socialist Party) approaching legislative elections – and more crucially how Sócrates is likely to “behave” out of jail – is “a complete unknown”, writes DN.

For now, politicians on all sides are keeping mum.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]