Ricardo Salgado, patriarch of Portugal’s beleaguered Espirito Santo business clan, was arrested on Thursday to be questioned by an investigating judge.
It was not in connection with the family’s latest problems, but over a long-running investigation into money laundering and tax evasion.
Salgado – a voluntary witness in that probe before – was detained and taken to the closed court session because he was considered a flight risk. The 70-year-old has a Brazilian passport and there is no extradition agreement between Brazil and Portugal. He had to post a three million euro bond before he was allowed to leave.
António Costa, the head of Portugal’s Económico business newspaper, explained: “This is about the so-called ‘Monte Branco’ investigation and has nothing to do with Banco Espirito Santo, or the Espirito Santo family and all the cases that have popped up in recent weeks about the bankruptcy threat to the group and the family. This is only about Ricardo Salgado, and decisions he’s taken, and suspected money-laundering and tax evasion.”
Reportedly, Salgado’s latest questioning was requested by Portugal’s tax authorities following searches for documents at various Espirito Santo group offices. That comes after irregularities were discovered at an Espirito Santo holding company.
Also on Thursday, the head of Portugal’s markets regulator, told a parliamentary commission criminal charges could be in the offing.
Carlos Tavares said: “The market regulator has opened 20 procedures against different part of the Espírito Santo Group, evidence of insider trading has been reported to the Public Prosecutor as well as possible criminal abuse of trust.”
He also said that in the past six years the markets watchdog had scrutinised the Espirito Santo Group on various occasions, had found signs of possible illegal activity, and had alerted prosecutors.
The prosecutor’s office said last week it had several investigations under way into the situation around the Espirito Santo empire.
Banco Espirito Santo is seen by traders as mostly isolated from the family’s problems.
The family lost control of BES after a billion euros share issue last month, Richard Salgado stood down and an independent management team took over Portugal’s largest listed bank by assets weeks later, though the family remains the largest single shareholder.
What is Operation Monte Branco?
Named Monte Branco by prosecutors, possibly in a reference to the Swiss mountain Mont Blanc, the investigation started in 2011 and focused on the activities of Swiss-based asset manager Akoya, which worked with Portuguese customers via a local intermediary with links to local banks.
Akoya was run by two former managers of Swiss bank UBS, one of them Portuguese, and had the then chief of Banco Espirito Santo’s Angolan unit, or BESA, as a shareholder.
Salgado said in January 2013 that he had always paid his taxes and was not a suspect. At the time, the prosecutor’s office confirmed he was not suspected of any crimes.
with LUSA and Reuters