quarta-feira, 23 de maio de 2012

The Bacelar Case

This law case reports to the nineteen nineties. It could seem an apparently innocuous case about a civil servant who illegitimately claimed large amounts of money for expenses, the unusual is that the the Public Prosecutor's charges were initially made against nine members of the government hierarchy, right up to the Secretary of Finances.

The story: Bacelar was an elderly civil servant who worked in the Financial Inspectorate and was reluctantly persuaded to become its director, despite being uneager and underqualified. While the former was perceived by the powers that be as a bonus, the latter presented a problem: Bacelar could not legally earn a director's salary. A solution was found to keep him sweet. He would be paid the difference in expenses for work trips to the next door island of Porto Santo - journeys he never made… he was obliging enough to sign in for work in Madeira, while he was officially away for work in Port Santo… Although the whole hierarchy was in on the scam, indeed they had thought it up and implemented it, only Bacelar was eventually convicted - the judge dropped the charges against the eight other accused before the trial began.

The story behind the story. The Financial Inspectorate had the task of checking on various matters, among them imports, smuggling and counterfeit goods - the services had recently been regionalized - and the Regional Government had a problem: Bacelar's predecessor, João Alberto Freitas, was rather keen on his duties. He sunk his teeth into the scam of importing out-of-date meat from the EU, unfit for consumption, which was relabeled and sold on the local market. He repeatedly inspected the Patio restaurant, then owned by the all-powerful Jaime Ramos, and was told by his superiors, in no uncertain terms, to back off. 

João Alberto didn't back off. He was removed from duty, subjected to disciplinary proceedings (filed by Bertie's pal Guilherme Silva) and sent to stew in a rat poison warehouse. Still having faith in the 'great leader', he wrote him a letter denouncing the whole situation. This coincided with the period after the silver exhibition was stolen from the Regional Parliament and the regime was shaken by corruption scandals. Bertie John, ever the actor, called on all those who wished to denounce corruption to write to him personally. 

By the time João Alberto Freitas wrote his third denunciation letter, his patience was wearing thin and the language he used also - the great leader flaunted the third letter as evidence that the man had never been quite right in the head. Of the corruption letters campaign, Bertie was to say that he had received 300 letters in all, but only one had talked about corruption. His Government was as clean as a whistle!

But the Bacelar case moved on, and however much the powers that be denied it, it was clear that the whole hierarchy had approved the illicit payment scheme - essentially to have someone docile on the job. The priority, Government wisdom preached, was to enlighten business people, not to inspect them. But why spend five months a year enlightening the business community of Porto Santo, where there were only a handful of businesses?

The Court Auditor's report was crystal clear,  apart from the detail that Bacelar had signed in for work in Funchal when he was officially away, there were no documents, tickets or bills to support the payments for Bacelar's obviously fictitious Porto Santo trips! The hierarchy, right up to the Secretary had to be in on the scheme! Bacelar was a bozo: useless, dispensable, a scapegoat. 

The remarkable and unusual aspect of this case is that the Public Prosecutor actually contested the judge's decision to drop the charges against the other eight accused - the only ones who had the power and the means to implement the scheme.   

The lesson: there are three legs to the Portuguese justice system, each presents an opportunity for Bertie to knobble it.

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