Super-judge swoops on new businessman in ever-tightening Sócrates’ investigation

Super judge Carlos Alexandre was back in the limelight yesterday as he grilled another businessman suspected of involvement in the complex web of intrigue centering on former Socialist prime minister José Sócrates (pictured) and many millions of ‘hidden’ euros.

As the former politician celebrates the passing of his fifth month behind bars awaiting formal charges, Alexandre was interviewing Joaquim Barroca Rodrigues – the administrator of Grupo Lena, the Portuguese construction firm understood to have been heavily favoured by Sócrates during his years in power.

Rodrigues was detained on Wednesday in a raid on both his home and business premises in Leiria.

Interviewed at length in Lisbon yesterday, he has spent a second night in police cells and will appear in court this morning (Friday) to hear his bail conditions.

With Rodrigues’ arrest on suspicion of “active corruption”, this brings the number of defendants in the complicated investigation to six.

At the top of the pile are Sócrates and his life-long friend Carlos Santos Silva (also previously employed by Lena) – both jailed in November on the basis that their freedom would compromise the investigation.

Also sharing “arguido” status but otherwise at liberty are Sócrates’ former driver João Perna, lawyer Gonçalo Trindade Ferreira and businessman Paulo Lalanda Castro, the administrator of pharmaceutical company Octapharma that used to employ Sócrates as its consultant for Latin America.

As national media has pointed out, the investigation is entering a new phase and still has at least seven months to run before it needs to present its case.

This latest twist centres on bank transfers purportedly made by Rodrigues and which tally with amounts later “borrowed” by Sócrates from his friend and co-defendant Santos Silva.

Investigators leading Wednesday’s searches are understood to have seized a computer that shows many of the money transfers and will be “fundamental for the investigation”, reports Observador website.

Rodrigues and his brother – both sons of the founder of Grupo Lena – are understood to be friends of Sócrates, to the extent that they took an impromptu trip to New York together, to meet with an Angolan minister with a view to getting Lena group construction work in Angola.

The ins and outs of how Rodrigues has been involved in active corruption remain for investigators to establish.

Certainly, he has come out on record before denying all involvement, while his company is now issuing statements alluding to the damage Operation Marquês is doing to its reputation, both in Portugal and “the other countries where (they) continue to work”.

In a communiqué issued last night, Lena’s executive committee stressed the company “had passed through two political regimes, four elected Presidents of the Republic, governments of various political hues and ideology” and had always treated its “relationship with political power, our principal client in Portugal and in any other country of the world… with respect, responsibility and transparency”.

Observador stresses nonetheless that the group’s success in securing government business has been phenomenal.

It was the principal beneficiary in Sócrates’ controversial Parque Escolar programme “in which it made around €137 million”.

It is also described as having collaborated with Brisa in two of the lucrative PPPs “launched by José Sócrates”.

But the group has stressed that “figures given on its business dealings” from the PPPs, to Parque Escolar” and business dealings in Venezuela and Angola are “incorrect and erroneous”.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]