Pedrogao Fire Rebuild: State Wants Jail for 2 Ex-Officials
Updated: Nov 18, 2021
Pedrogao Grande ex-President Valdemar Alves (Photo by Fernando Fontes/Global Imagens)
The prosecution asked for the imprisonment of former president Valdemar Alves and ex-council member Bruno Gomes of Pedrogao Grande in the trial of alleged dereliction of office, fraud and document forgery in the rebuilding of homes after the June 2017 fire, reported SIC Noticias (November 11).
In view of the number of crimes and their seriousness, they should be condemned to prison sentences, said the state’s attorney, Catarina Lopes, in closing arguments on November 11 at the Tribunal Court of Leiria, according to Diario de Noticias (November 11). The trial began on October 26, 2020.
Prosecutor Lopes conceded that the court may opt for a suspended sentence. In that case, she said that the sentence must include the replacement of money that was used improperly in house reconstructions, reported RTP Noticias (November 11).
Gomes and Alves “acted in collusion and shared efforts and wills”, trampling over legal norms with the intention of benefitting other defendants, said the prosecutor.
The two former officials face 20 counts of dereliction of political office, 20 counts of document forgery and 20 counts of fraud in the process of reconstruction of houses. The June 2017 fire killed 66, injured 253 and destroyed 50 businesses and 500 houses, including 261 permanent homes, according to RTP Noticias.
(A separate Pedrogao Grande fire ongoing trial began on May 24 with 11 defendants to determine the responsibility for the deaths of 63 and the injuries of 44.)
Over the course of two hours and 15 minutes, Prosecutor Lopes declared “all the facts described in the indictment as proven”. Valdemar Alves and Bruno Gomes “knew that, in this way, they would obtain benefits, not at an economic level, but at a political level as “reconstruction of almost all the houses” would accrue “political prestige” and lead to access to other positions.
She said that the actions of Gomes and Alves harmed families who really needed support as well as the municipalities of Castanheira de Pera and Figueiro dos Vinhos, which also were affected by the fire.
Prosecutor Lopes also asked for convictions of the other 26 defendants. She said that the others should be sentenced to suspended prison sentences with conditions, which include “returning everything they received.”
She said that the defendants acted with intent. She listed “several stratagems they used”: change of tax addresses; renewal of citizen cards, and requests for false residence certificates, reported RTP Noticias.
After the fire, permanent houses were eligible for rebuilding by the local government. The legislation describes permanent housing as the place where the person always lives, continuously, stable and lasting, and which corresponds to his, her or their tax domicile.
Valdemar Alves and Bruno Gomes, insisted the prosecutor, “promoted the rehabilitation of houses that were identified by the municipality as second homes or non-permanent homes”, according to RTP Noticias.
“Both of them knew that applications for support from the fund would be rejected by the Technical Committee and by the Management Council (of Revita) if they found that before the fire, these were houses in ruins, vacant, or non-permanent housing,” stressed Prosecutor Lopes.