Corruption scandal rocks Madeira
The Times yesterday reported that the sugar and wine trade with Madeira led to the establishment of an English colony on the sub-tropical island paradise as early as the 15th century. Long a favourite with British tourists, these days it offers luxury lodgings, wine tasting and hiking. But the respected newspaper is now reporting on “Trouble in Paradise” as corrupt local politics rises to the surface again.
“But there is trouble in paradise,” says the leading British newspaper, popular once upon a time with many of the readers staying in the select up-market hotels. A huge corruption scandal has cast a shadow over the Portuguese island, threatening to topple its government. Some of the island’s key political and business figures have been arrested. Under investigation is its top political leader and a business venture jointly owned by a hotel company and Madeira-born footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
The first sign of the approaching trouble in paradise was a massive police operation. Two Air Force planes carrying 270 criminal investigators, including two investigating judges and six magistrates, arrived from Lisbon last month. They made three high-profile arrests, including Pedro Calado, the mayor of Funchal, the capital of the archipelago.
Pedro Calado, the mayor of Funchal, is under arrest
A diamond worth €50,000 was allegedly found wrapped in paper in the mayor’s desk drawer along with 15 luxury watches. The gem was officially valued after his defence lawyer said it was understood to be “synthetic” and “of negligible value”. Another €20,000 was reportedly found at his home and €10,000 at his mother’s house. He has been linked to another €500,000 reportedly found in a safe.
Calado, who has since resigned as mayor, was arrested and flown to Lisbon along with two of the island’s construction magnates, Avelino Farinha and Carlos Custódio. Judicial questioning of the three detainees is ongoing. As a result of the operation, Miguel Albuquerque, the head of the regional government, is being investigated for eight crimes, including passive corruption, active corruption, abuse of power and influence peddling
… whilst the Regional President resigns
The President of the Regional Government, Miguel Albuquerque, has resigned. He has denied any wrongdoing. Portuguese authorities are investigating whether real estate projects worth hundreds of millions of euros on the island since 2015 were illegally approved with the collusion of Albuquerque and Calado, both from Portugal’s centre-right Social Democratic Party (PSD).
Portugal faces national elections
The investigation has dealt a further blow not only to Madeira’s Paradise image, but also to mainland Portugal’s image. The country faces elections next month that were called after corruption allegations led to the resignation of Antonio Costa, the Socialist prime minister. Costa resigned in November over an investigation into alleged illegalities in his government’s handling of large green investment projects. He has denied any wrongdoing.
The scandal in Madeira has damaged the PSD (social democrats) just as it hopes to win power, and tarnished the image of an island synonymous with tourism. Britons are the second most numerous nationality after the Portuguese in terms of visitors each year which reported that last year more than 2.1 million tourists visited Madeira, which has a population of about 250,000. From January to November 2023 tourism revenue exceeded €600 million. Measuring 35 miles by 14, the island lies 310 miles off the north-west coast of Africa and 621 miles south-west of Lisbon.
Celebrity visitors to Madeira have marked the island’s tourism since the 19th cenrury. Most of them have been guests at the Reid’s Palace hotel, built by a Scot and opened in 1891, including King Edward VIII, Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw. More recently Ronaldo’s association with the island has added to its allure for his fans.
Corruption now “hanging in the air” in Paradise
The Portuguese football star Cristiano Ronaldo, seen here posing with his individual trophies in Madeira in 2018, has invested in the island, intensely proud of birthplace.
However, the corruption scandal is now hanging in the air in paradise, which is not a surprise to a lot of the long-term residents. Among other areas of investigation, prosecutors are probing to see if Calado and Albuquerque are involved in any alleged irregularities related to a real estate project that is the result of a partnership between the Pestana Hotel Group and Ronaldo. They are investigating a development under construction in Praia Formosa by Pestana CR7, the hotel partnership between the businessman Dionísio Pestana and Ronaldo, the state news agency Lusa reported.
Formosa Bay Residences
Formosa Bay Residences, with 213 luxury apartments 250 metres from the beach, is being built in an area protected by Funchal’s municipal development plan. However, the plan has been suspended, unlocking the start of works, according to the Jornal da Madeira newspaper. The land used on Formosa beach belongs to Ronaldo.
The project has sparked protests from environmentalists and opposition parties in Madeira. They point out that Formosa beach is the last major undeveloped beach in Funchal. Manuel Cunha, representative of Os Verdes, has drawn attention to its “questionable legality”, saying that no planning or licensing plan for Formosa Bay had been approved for residences.
Ronaldo declined to comment. Pestana have not responded to a request for comment.
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