Former Banco Espírito Santo chief executive arrested

Prosecutors say Salgado detained in connection with money laundering and tax evasion

Portuguese Bank Espirito Santo’s then chief executive Ricardo Salgado. Photograph: Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters

Portuguese Bank Espirito Santo’s then chief executive Ricardo Salgado. Photograph: Jose Manuel Ribeiro/Reuters

Thu, Jul 24, 2014, 13:27

Ricardo Espirito Santo Salgado, patriarch of Portugal’s beleaguered Espirito Santo banking family and former chief of Banco Espirito Santo, was detained by law officials and brought before a judge today, prosecutors said.

The detention exacerbates the problems faced by the family, which is fighting to save its business empire following the discovery of material irregularities at one of its holding companies earlier this year.

Mr Salgado was brought before a judge at Lisbon’s Central Criminal Custody Court and was still there late this morning, a court official told Reuters. Salgado entered the court via a garage that is not accessible to media, to attend the hearing which was closed to the public.

The Prosecutor General’s office said in a statement that Mr Salgado (70) had been detained in connection with a long-running investigation into money laundering and tax evasion. It gave no further detail of the hearing. Representatives of the Espirito Santo family and the bank could not immediately be reached for comment. Mr Salgado had been a voluntary witness in the probe and 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.

Separately today, Carlos Tavares, head of Portugal’s CMVM securities markets watchdog, said that in the past six years his regulator had scrutinised the family’s Espirito Santo Group on various occasions and found signs of possible illegal activity of which it had alerted prosecutors.

Speaking to a parliamentary committee, Mr Tavares cited what he described as “signs of abuse of insider information and possible crime of confidence abuse”. The prosecutor’s office said last week it had several investigations under way into the situation around the Espirito Santo empire.

Officials would not say on Thursday if the family’s recent problems, including the irregularities discovered at a holding company and creditor protection sought by two entities, were linked to the alleged money laundering case, in which only brief detentions of suspects have occurred so far.

The investigation, codenamed Monte Branco by prosecutors, possibly in a reference to the Swiss mountain Mont Blanc, 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. Portuguese weekly Expresso reported last month that BESA did not know to whom it had extended loans worth $5.7 billion - around 80 percent of its debt portfolio - during the mandate of previous chief executive Alvaro Sobrinho, who left the post in October 2012.

Calls to a number listed on Mr Sobrinho’s website were not answered. Asked by Reuters about the Expresso article in June, new chief executive Rui Guerra said: “As head of the bank I know the situation ... and that type of article really does not make sense.”