Town hall building in Vila Nova de Gaia
Town hall building in Vila Nova de Gaia

Urban planning: PJ police swoop on new councils; seven arrested

Yesterday Tabuaço, today Vila Nova de Gaia, Porto

The map of Portuguese municipalities targeted by police swoops – invariably focused on departments of urban planning – grew further today with Operation Babel (a name that alludes to the tower constructed against God by descendants of Noah…)

In this case it appears to be an alleged plot for “corruption and favouritism”. More to the point, another alleged plot for corruption and favouritism.

Yesterday authorities came down on the municipality of Tabuaço, insisting on the suspension of the mayor and his deputy, today it is Vila Nova de Gaia, and deputy mayor Patrocínio Azevedo, and six others, two of which appear to be businessmen, as well as Porto.

According to a statement by the PJ, 55 searches took place in homes and public offices.

The investigation focuses on the perversion of rules and instructions relating to urban licensing processes to favour “promoters associated with projects of high density and magnitude”.

At stake are “real estate interests in the order of €300 million, through the offer and acceptance of pecuniary counterparts”.

“There are also indications of practices aimed at benefiting individuals in the sector of recruitment of human resources and provision of services, by the municipal executive, as well as the existence of corruptive phenomena at the level of employees of other services in which the said property developers had economic interests.

“At this stage, 12 defendants have already been charged and the detainees, a political office-holder, two municipal service employees, an employee of the Regional Directorate of Culture of the North, two businessmen and a liberal professional, have been indicted for the crimes of receiving or offering an undue advantage, active and passive corruption, prevarication and abuse of power committed by and on behalf of an employee or political office-holder.

“In this operation were present magistrates of the Regional DIAP, 130 criminal investigators of the Directorate of the North and various units of the Judicial Police, as well as computer and financial experts of this Police, with the support of the Security Unit of the PJ.

“During the proceedings, documentary and digital elements relating to the practice of the facts with possible probative scope were seized” says the PJ statement. Television reports suggest some of the digital elements will have been mobile phones (more precisely, the mobile phones of head honchos in town planning).

The seven arrested will now be presented to the competent judicial authority at the Criminal Investigation Court at Porto for preliminary questions, and the application of appropriate bail measures. 

It is understood that at least two of those detained work for the municipality of Porto.

Vila Nova de Gaia is a PS Socialist council, as is Tabuaço. Porto municipality is made up of seven political groups, Aqui há Porto, PS Socialists, PSD, CDU, Bloco de Esquerda, PAN and CHEGA.

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