Valdemar Alves, former president of Pedrógão Grande Municipality (Photo by Fernando Fontes/ Global Archive Imagens)
For his conviction in irregularities of the reconstruction of houses after the deadliest fire in Portugal’s history, the Court of Appeal of Coimbra reduced the prison sentence of Valdemar Alves, the former president of Pedrógão Grande Municipality, from seven to five years, suspended during its execution for the same period.
At the hearing on February 7, ex-president Alves was convicted of committing a crime of malfeasance in forma continuada (homogenous manner; injury to same legal entity; unity of intent, and persistence of an external situation) and a crime of qualified fraud, also in forma continuada, resulting in a single sentence of five years in prison, suspended during its execution for the same period, reported Jornal de Leiria (February 8).
However, the former president was not satisfied with the outcome. His lawyer, Bolota Belchoir, told Lusa news agency, that appeal to the Constitutional Court is “almost certain”, reported Público (February 7).
“It went partially well, but there is a basic issue. . . . It must be maintained that there is a problem of illegality and unconstitutionality of some decrees-laws and norms that they are applying,” said the lawyer.
At Leiria Judicial Court on January 31, 2022, the former president had been convicted of 13 crimes of prevarication of a political officeholder and of eight crimes of qualified fraud and another two for qualified fraud in the attempted form, reported RTP Notícias (January 31, 2022).
Also, at the Court of Appeal of Coimbra, a former Pedrógão Grande Municipality councilor, Bruno Gomes, also had his sentence reduced, but from six to four years in prison, and suspended upon execution for a period of five years, for committing a crime of malfeasance in forma continuada and a crime of qualified fraud in forma continuada. His lawyer also said that there would an appeal to the Constitutional Court, reported Público.
The appealed decision condemned ex-president Valdemar Alves and 13 other defendants in a trial related to the reconstruction of houses after Pedrógão Grande’s June 2017 fire, which destroyed 500 houses, including 261 permanent houses, wrecked 50 businesses, killed 66 and injured 253.
The perpetrators “promoted the rehabilitation of houses that were identified by the municipality as second homes or non-permanent homes,” reported RTP Notícias (January 31, 2022).
Judge Cristiana Almeida had said that the 14 defendants acted with intent, harming other people who actually needed help to rebuild their homes after the devastating fire.
The Coimbra Court of Appeal ruled that the appeals of the remaining 12 defendants, all applicants for the reconstruction of properties, were completely unfounded. The Court maintained the sentences of between one year and six months and two years and nine months handed down in the same trial. The sentences were all suspended upon their execution, reported Público.
The Coimbra court also ruled that the appeals of União das Misericórdias Portuguesas and Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian were partially valid and within the scope of civil compensation claims.
Leiria Judicial Court had ordered Valdemar Alves and Bruno Gomes to pay, along with 11 other defendants, the civil claims made by the government house reconstruction Revita Fund (€109,383.30); the partnership of União das Misericórdias Portuguesas and Fundaçao Calouste Gulbenkian (€185,233.33), and by the Portuguese Red Cross (€111,579.01), totaling €406,195.54, reported RTP Notícias (January 31, 2022).
“Suspicions fell on cases of people who had changed their fiscal address in order to obtain support from the Revita Fund or other institutions,” reported RTP Noticias.
In a separate trial to determine responsibility for the deaths of 63 and the injuries of 44 in the Pedrógão Grande fire, a panel of judges at Leiria Judicial Court acquitted the 11 defendants who were accused of negligent homicide and grievous bodily harm.