What next, Madeira? Regional president cited for eight crimes

Suspicions against Albuquerque mirror those levelled against detained mayor

In two surreal days, Madeira’s political landscape has taken a pounding that may prove fatal. After decades of PSD social democrat leadership, opposition parties are seeing an opportunity: CHEGA/ PS are both threatening motions of censure; the national social democrat leadership has admitted there is no option but to ditch the current leader and try to cobble together a new executive that ‘passes muster’, and convinces its allies (CDS/ PAN).

What happened? The answer seems to go back years. According to reports, current president of the regional government Miguel Albuquerque is being cited for no less than eight crimes stretching back over his mandates, including ‘attack against the state of democratic law, prevarication, undue receipt of advantage, passive corruption, active corruption, economic participation in business, abuse of power and trafficking of influences.

Exactly the same accusations are facing his apparent ‘next-in-line’, mayor of Funchal, Pedro Calado – currently in police custody in Lisbon, awaiting questioning tomorrow in front of a judge – while permutations thereof are facing the other two people arrested on Wednesday, construction bosses Avelino Farinha and Carlos Custódio.

What separates the treatment of Albuquerque from the others is ‘parliamentary privilege’. If Albuquerque didn’t have it, he would very likely be in a police cell in Lisbon as well.

Albuquerque has said he will “request the lifting” of his immunity, “but he has not specified a date”, say reports.

As Lusa has explained, “the facts” as interpreted by public prosecutors “are likely to substantiate, in the abstract, the practice by the suspects Miguel Albuquerque, Pedro Calado and Avelino Farinha (head of the AFA business group) of facts that could constitute crimes against the rule of law, malfeasance, undue receipt of an advantage, receiving of bribes, bribery, economic participation in business, abuse of power and graft.” 

Among public prosecutors’ suspicions is alleged collusion between the regional government led by Miguel Albuquerque, Pedro Calado and members of the Pestana hotel group, namely the Pestana CR7 unit (a company set up in partnership with Madeira-born star footballer Cristiano Ronaldo), who are alleged to have been involved “in a scheme to favour the interests and real estate business of that group in the context of the construction of the Praia Formosa real estate project.”

“Alleged favouritism is also cited in the choice of the company that won public tenders to organise a jazz festival in Funchal in 2022 and 2023, with public prosecutors noting that the winning entity was set up four days before the tender was submitted and that it had no experience of organising events.”

According to prosecutors, there is a “privileged relationship, characterised by great proximity and informality” between Albuquerque, Calado and Farinha, Lusa continues. 

Prosecutors add that, as part of this relationship, Calado “acted, and still acts, as a common denominator for the other suspects” – serving as an “intermediary, in order to safeguard the interests of the AFA group with the Regional Government and the municipality of Funchal.”

The office of public prosecutions goes so far as to state that Albuquerque “interfered” in municipal matters, as well as Calado having taken a position on regional-level issues, namely involving the interests of a number of Madeira businessmen.

The case arose following anonymous reports, says Lusa, with the investigation going on to uncover “new suspicions of potential favouritism in regional public procurement” involving the regional premier, the mayor of Funchal and the head of the AFA business group – a group that by coincidence used to employ Calado.

According to Correio da Manhã, these alleged schemes have awarded public contracts to the tune of around €260 million.

And then there is the uncomfortable matter of €500,000 cash reportedly discovered in a safe in a business “with links to Pedro Calado” – cash that this far Calado has not been able to “justify”.

This “could add to Calado’s charge sheet the crime of ‘fiscal fraud for having money that has avoided the banking system”, says the paper.

Calado – a car racing enthusiast – “risks being held in jail”, the paper continues – but if he renounces his mayorship, he may be able to convince a judge that there is no ‘risk of continuing the criminal activity’ levelled against him. This would be one way of being able to ‘go home’ and sit the rest of this investigation out before it solidifies enough to go to trial.

But the implications of these arrests will mean a number of public works in Madeira are expected to be ‘suspended’, which will complicate the day-to-day of both AFA and potentially the Pestana group in Madeira.

The Praia Formosa development, for example, was approved for land that was meant to have been ‘protected’, under the Funchal PDM. That PDM however was ‘suspended’, to allow the development to go forwards.

Other suspects:

There are two other ‘official suspects’ in this probe: Susana Prada, a former regional secretary for the environment, and her husband, António Prada, who is a director of the Pestana Group.

UPDATE: PS Madeira says it won’t accept a substitute for Albuquerque: it wants new elections (which cannot be called for two months, by law, as the last elections on the island were in September).

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