25 January 2009

English investigate contacts between Sócrates and Freeport representatives

by Felícia Cabrita

A meeting between representatives from Freeport Plc and the then minister for the Environment, José Sócrates, is one of the master pieces of the investigation that is being carried out by the British authorities into the 'Freeport case'

According to the authorities of the United Kingdom, the first initiatives to traffic influences originated from the outlet's management board and counted on help from the ambassador in Portugal. But the meeting with the minister was ultimately scheduled after diligences by Júlio Coelho Monteiro - Sócrates' maternal uncle and an entrepreneur in the real estate business, one of the suspects that were targeted by searches last Thursday -, who confirmed to Sol that he asked his nephew to receive the representatives from Freeport Plc.

The meeting took place in January 2002, when Freeport, with a fresh breath, advanced to obtain the approval of a third Environmental Impact Study (the former ones had not been approved by the entities at the Environment Ministry), the only way to obtain the licensing of the project well within the Special Protection Zone (SPZ) of the Tejo Estuary.

With the interview that he gave to Sol last week - and which is published in this edition - Júlio Monteiro confirms an essential piece of the British investigation: that he was the 'bridge' between his nephew and Charles Smith, the partner of consultancy firm Smith & Pedro that was hired by Freeport to render the project viable.

Júlio Monteiro says: "One day, [Smith] complained to me that a law firm was demanding 4 million contos [20 million euros] to obtain the licensing of Freeport".

He then spoke to José Sócrates, telling him about these complaints. The minister of the Environment replied: "Uncle, that's a pack of lies because I'm the one who takes care of such things. Send that person to speak to me".

Sol contacted José Sócrated through his mobile phone: "I don't speak with you!", the prime minister replied.

On Thursday, in Zamora (at the end of the Iberian Summit), he reacted to the news about the searches that had been carried out in Lisbon: "What I expect is for the authorities to do their job swiftly. This case appeared during the electoral campaign in 2005 and returns now when elections are also to be disputed".

'Corrupt payments'

In the English process, according to what Sol revealed in its last edition, there is also a DVD that shows Charles Smith, who was unaware of being filmed, explaining to a member of the board of Freeport how millions of pounds (partly belonging to the English royal family) went astray.

In his conversation with the British member of the board, Smith, who had been in charge of obtaining the approval for the Environmental Impact Study and the project's licensing, told about the obstacles that he met throughout the process and confessed that the money was used for "corrupt payments", in order to satisfy what had been agreed during a meeting in 2002, when the new EIS's approval was discussed, "with Sócrates" and some elements of his staff.

It is recalled that in order to render the Freeport in Alcochete, the largest outlet in Europe, viable, the approval, on the 14th of March 2002 (three days before the legislative election), of the Environmental Impact Study (EIS) - the third one, after the former two ones failed to be approved due to environmental consequences - was decisive.

A little earlier, in 2001, the Environment Ministry had rendered the second EIS inviable, alleging that the project dragged "high charges of visitors and of occupation that do not match the goals of the politics of the environment and of preservation of nature that led to the creation of the SPZ" of the Tejo Estuary.

On the same date (14th of March), during the last Ministers' council under António Guterres, with the Government in a management phase, a law decree was approved that changed the boundaries of the Tejo Estuary SPZ. There was no public discussion, nor basic technical studies, not even the obligatory consultation with the European Commission.

Meanwhile, in late 2004, based on an anonymous denunciation, the Polícia Judiciária (PJ) in Setúbal started an investigation, and in February 2005 the Public Ministry opened an inquiry over suspicions of corruption, participation in an illicit business deal, traffic of influences and fiscal fraud. The PJ then carried out several searches, namely at the Town Hall of Alcochete.

In the mayor's office, José Dias Inocêncio, and in those of his assistants, the entire documentation concerning the licensing and construction of Freeport were apprehended. But it was at Smith & Pedro that, apart from large amounts of documentation, a computer was apprehended and large amounts of electronic correspondence that was relevant for the process were recovered from its hard drive.

DVD brings English to Portugal

It was only in 2007 that the authorities in the United Kingdom opened an inquiry. At that time, they travelled to Portugal and contacted the PJ in Setúbal, which had sent them a rogatory letter two years earlier asking for access to the bank accounts belonging to Freeport and to Charles Smith, and requesting authorisation to hear some of the English members of the board. A request that the English police had not replied to, yet (and which has not been completely fulfilled to this day).

The English already held the DVD at that time. Smith, while reporting on the company's history and on the bribes that had been paid to entrepreneurs, municipal managers and politicians, mentioned a cousin of the Environment minister, who had also received commissions, as one of the links to the political power.

This person was Hugo Monteiro, the oldest son of José Sócrates' maternal uncle. After the aforementioned meeting at the Environment Ministry, an email was sent to Freeport, mentioning that the process was already unblocked, that the Monteiro family awaited its reward and that the minister of the Environment would be made aware of this electronic correspondence.

Júlio Monteiro referred to Sol that this email, if it exists, can only have been sent by his son: "My companies had no imprinted logo, but Smith, who had been involved in business with my son before, was supposed to take care of a project at Freeport for him, in the marketing area, at a company that ended up closing because it had no invoicing. That email can only have come from there".

This company is Neurónio Criativo, registered only in 2004 and directed to activities in the area of showbusiness, restaurants and bars, which lasted only for a few months.

During the course of the investigation, the English detected the exit of high amounts of money from Freeport Plc, in London, that had suspicious destinations in Portugal. Among these is consultancy firm Smith & Pedro, to which successive instalments 50 thousand pounds were transfered.

Vieira de Almeida's firm investigated

Vasco Vieira de Almeida, the outlet's lawyer, is also targeted by the authorities. According to sources that know the process, the statements made by witnesses in England, as well as the trail of the money that defalcated Freeport, indicate that at least another five million pounds had as destiny a firm that was created by Vasco Vieira de Almeida and that it has nothing to do with his law firm. The commissions, according to the English investigators, left Freeport's head office in Monaco and arrived in Portugal through offshores that are based in Switzerland and in Gibraltar.

Two offshores belonging to Júlio Monteiro were also detected, and their financial flows are being analysed. The first one is Glenstal Trading Limited, which was created by BCP [a Portuguese private bank] in Gibraltar and which has an account at a branch office in Funchal, but also with an account at BPN [a Portuguese private bank currently involved in a financial scandal of major proportions], opened in Cayman. The other offshore, which was created by the same bank in 2001, is based in Wyoming, an American state, and also passes through Cayman.

Meanwhile, Júlio Monteiro guaranteed to Sol that his firms outside of the country "have no movement whatsoever and the police will not be able to prove anything through those". And he clarified that "the police took diverse documentation" from his home, namely referring to "old offshores". At Isa, a real estate firm in Setúbal that is owned by Júlio Monteiro, the complete accountancy has been apprehended.


source: Sol, 24.01.2009

2 comments:

  1. It seems a bit odd this case come again just in elections year...and when several oposition menbers are clearly envolved in criminal cases in bank. I hope it can be investigaed quickly and we can know what really happened.

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  2. I hope it will be investigated until the truth comes out.
    I couldn't care less whether this is an election year or not.
    If members of another political party are involved as suspects in other criminal cases,that should not be allowed to interfere.
    If it interferes it just proves that corruption is much more widespread than we would all like to believe.
    Congratulations on your post and carry on!

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