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Portimão councillor arrests, what’s it all about?

autodromeThe deputy mayor of Portimão Luís Carito already is famous in Portugal’s legal history as the man who swallowed the evidence, literally.

When Carito's house was being searched by police this week he snatched a document from the hands of a surprised officer and ate it, the document, not the hand. That was on Wednesday and a lot has happened since then, the story is unfolding.

The charges against the Portimão five are variously "corruption, maladministration, money laundering and economic participation in business" according to the Lisbon Central Court's proseuctors.

The crimes in question are related to Portimão's operating company Portimão Urbis and with other companies, including this company's ‘training partner’ that aimed to train employees, but didn’t.

This training was for the Picture Portugal project which aimed to create a vast film industry complex, Cidade do Cinema (Cinema City) near the ill-fated Autodrome Internacional do Algarve. This film production project, its finances and those involved are being investigated.

The two Socialist Party officials, Luís Carito and Jorge Campos, were at the time of the alleged offences in 2011 on the board of directors of Portimão Urbis.

The others arrested were Lélio Blanca an administrator at Portimão Urbis and two businessmen, Artur Curado from the Algarve Film Commission, and Luis Marreiros a director of Picture Portugal.

This Cinema City project had a budget of €3 million and never left the drawing board. Portimão council invested €700,000 in 'research and consulting,' despite being the most indebted council in the country and almost totally lacking in commercial expertise.

Travel to Los Angeles to meet with stakeholders and meetings in India involving minister Paulo Portas to win investment... the picture is emerging and there is of course more to come. What seemed at first to be a case of a shell company invoicing for services not rendered could turn into a major fraud.

Picture Algarve modestly promised to transform Portugal into the ‘cradle’ of world cinema and Portimão council and the Algarve Film Commission submitted the project in May 2009 which provided for the creation of a film making complex and more bizarrely the construction of a theme park.

Now we move to the Autodrome where the film industry complex was planned using a 150 hectare plot next to the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve. The project management claimed to have recruited the actor Joaquim de Almeida as one of the media faces to promote the project.

Back then Luís Carito, the president of Portimão Turis, later integrated into Portimão Urbis, revealed that of the initial investment of €750 million, €550 million was to build the amusement park, and the remaining €200 million was for the production of the film industry complex.

The amusement park business was linked by Carito with the American company Universal Studios, and was to be on the theme of ‘cars and the history of cinema.’ It is not yet known if Universal Studios bosses have ever heard of Carito, Portimão or the Algarve, but we have asked.

The proposed film industry complex was to include the construction of eleven film studios, two of which were to be completed by late 2010, which would lure film producers and directors to the Algarve.

In 2010 the project led by Picture Portugal’s Artur Curado and Luis Marreiros, was to be managed in partnership with Portimão Urbis which would hold a 20% stake in the company.

In March 2010, Luís Carito, then president of Portimão Urbis, admitted that planning had slipped due to delay in completion of the economic study, but assured the world that the project would continue.

Apparently investors were lining up to back this film complex at the southwestern tip of Europe. CBS-Paramount, Universal, Fox, Sony and Warner Brothers were allegedly all set to join Portuguese investors.

US based ambassadors of the enterprise were the actor Joaquim de Almeida, and Carlos Mattos a Portuguese businessman and winner of two US Academy Awards. Their task was to convince the US big hitters to invest a substantial part of the €25 million needed to build the first phase of the studio complex.

There was even talk in 2009 of re-filming the Steve McQueen classic "Le Mans" with Brad Pitt, Al Pacino and Penelope Cruz. This however required USD52 million from Picture Portugal by the end of 2009.

An anonymous tip-off in 2011 led police to start a detailed investigation into the management and cash trail involved in this whole ill-fated enterprise, culminating in this week’s arrests or many of the key players.

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