@ Cynthia Adina Kirkwood
Pedrogao Ex-President Appeals “Inhumane” Sentence
Updated: Apr 5, 2022
Alzira Luiz in front of her house in Rapos, Castanheira de Pera, which was destroyed by the fire and still was being rebuilt in September 2021, four years later (Photo by Paulo Novais)
An appeal has been filed for the former president of Pedrogao Grande, Valdemar Alves, in the sentencing of seven years in prison for irregularities in the rebuilding of houses after the June 2017 fire. The appeal described the sentence as “inhumane . . . and is equivalent to life imprisonment” which recalls the defendant’s age – 73 – and his state of health, reported Visao Verde (April 4).
On January 31, Valdemar Alves and Bruno Gomes, a former councilor, received sentencing from a panel of judges of the Judicial Court of Leiria. They “promoted the rehabilitation of houses that were identified by the municipality as second homes or non-permanent homes”, reported RTP Noticias (January 31).
(A separate Pedrogao Grande fire ongoing trial began on May 24, 2021, with 11 defendants to determine possible criminal charges for the deaths of 63 and the injuries of 44. Valdemar Alves is also one of the defendants.)
According to Judge Cristiana Almeida, the 28 defendants acted with intent, harming other people who actually needed help to rebuild their homes after the deadliest fire in the history of Portugal.
The judicial magistrate said that “it is understood, defendants, community” that “everything is not worth it” to access other people’s funds, considering that with their stance, the defendants “have managed to undermine everyone’s trust in the word solidarity.”
“The former president was also acquitted of some crimes, having been convicted of 13 crimes of prevarication of a political office holder and of eight crimes of qualified fraud and another two for qualified fraud in the attempted form, which carries a sentence of seven years in prison."
The court also ordered Valdemar Alves and Bruno Gomes to pay, along with 11 other defendants, the civil claims made by the house reconstruction Revita Fund (€109,383.30), the partnership of Uniao das Misericordias Portuguesas and Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian (€185,233.33) and by the Portuguese Red Cross (€111,579.01), totaling €406,195.54, according to RTP Noticias.
The government created Revita as a fund to support populations and the revitalization of areas affected by the fires that occurred in June 2017. The fund includes cash and in-kind donations, which may include goods and services.
The appeal denies that Valdemar Alves had “political motivation”, pointing out that “obtaining a political advantage does not constitute a crime” and stressing that Alves did not cause “illegitimate enrichment to anyone, through error or deception”, reported Visao Verde (April 4).
All the elements of (legal crime) type are missing in the attribution that the judgment makes to the appellant’s conduct with regard to crimes of fraud, argues the appeal, which also emphasizes that the amount by which the other municipalities suffered is not quantified.
Visao Verde continues: “The appeal adds that if it was understood that his actions ‘could be unlawful, then, according to the proven facts, there was a single resolution . . . and, therefore, only one crime.”
The appeal lists the legal norms, including the Constitution, which it considers to have been violated, and it adds that neither the people nor the municipalities of Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos suffered and that Revita was left with funds.
“Considering that the appeal must be granted with Valdemar Alves being acquitted, the document notes that, if this is understood, ‘ultimately’, the prison sentence must be suspended.”
The appeal was delivered to the Judicial Court of Leiria, and Lusa news agency gained access to it on April 4, according to Visao Verde.