Iraqi VIP thugs, Khazi Bota and ads for tarts

Dear reader

A week of news and views from the Algarve...

The Church in Portugal has benefitted from a local property IMI tax break established in 1940.

In the year when 22,000 Polish were murdered by the Soviets in the Katyn massacre, the German army landed in several Norwegian ports and subjugated Oslo, the invasion of France was underway and Denmark surrendered, Portugal’s Church and tax department busied themselves with the minutiae of tax planning.

The agreement was altered in 2004 after which the Church had to show that exempt properties indeed were being used for church business.

Someone in the tax authority has pressed the button as diocese across the country, most notably in the north, have been receiving IMI tax demands for hitherto exempt ecclesiastical properties and churchyards.

Denials from government are weak as the trickle of those unmistakable perforated letters has turned into an avalanche - someone has triggered this activity, but who? Both government and tax officials deny this is a new purge.

Finanças states that the IMI demands must be paid and that the Church can always complain, as is any taxpayer’s right. The problem with this, as many of us know from bitter experience, is that if tax demands are issued and not paid, whether the demand is justified or not, the State starts proceedings to seize assets for ‘public auction.’

My local church would make a wonderful wine bar if it comes up for auction, but thankfully the Church is wealthy enough to survive this fiscal shock. In a way, it is pleasing to note that Portugal’s noble institutions are treated in the same cursory manner as individual taxpayers, the ‘pay now, argue later’ scheme is applicable to all.

The Tax Authority no doubt is delighted that government is pushing ahead with its unconstitutional project to access all of our bank accounts, blaming variously the EU, the USA, terrorism and a purge on tax evasion.

The original snoopers’ charter went too far with every bank account to be opened for State inspection.

History has shown time and time again that governments cannot be trusted with information however much they protest that it’s all for the greater good. Data, once collected, is seldom destroyed and invariably used for purposes for which it was not gathered.

The ‘if you have done nothing wrong then you have nothing to worry about’ line is a nonsensical argument and within days the Ministry of Finance let an unnamed ‘spokesman’ announce to the papers that the transfer of information from the banks to its computer system will be only for those with €50,000 or more in their accounts.

This figure should be treated with great caution as the State will, of course, reserve the right to look at anyone’s accounts, so is likely to carry on as it planned.

The excuses given for accessing bank accounts is pretty daft as anyone involved in financing international terrorism presumably will have more intelligent methods in play than transferring large sums to banks in known terrorist hotspots.

With the €3,000 cash transaction limit coming in next year, along with this new intrusion into bank accounts, the black economy simply will increase in size, no doubt requiring yet more measures to intrude into our private lives.

Mendes Bota, the Algarve MP who recently became famous by standing up for the lack of toilet facilities on the region’s trains, has reached that stage in life when ‘everyone is wrong and people should have listened.’

Bota was ‘anti-oil in the Algarve’ in the late 1980s when the idea was first mooted and plans started to be drawn up by the government to divide up Portugal’s offshore areas into commercially valuable blocks and to sell licences for these concession areas.

Nobody much listened to Bota back then but now that the topic of oil in the Algarve has flared up in a bonfire of indignation and protest, Bota treats with barely disguised cynicism those politicians who only now are on the anti-oil bandwagon.

After the concession agreements were finally signed in the dying days of the Passos Coelho coalition government, Mendes Bota simply gave up bothering to complain, mainly because he is a Social Democrat as is Passos Coelho.

It would have been more grown up for the ex MP and former MEP to marvel at the power that the Algarve’s anti-oil campaigning groups and local people have achieved where the politicians so badly have failed.

To the Alentejo, where Ponte de Sor was the scene of a savage attack on a local youth by two Iraqi VIPs.

The twin Iraqi boys have diplomatic immunity because their father is an ambassador. Despite using an embassy car and attacking a local who needs reconstructive facial surgery and remains in intensive care, the 17-year-old boys were released by police and, if they have any sense, will now be long gone from the country.

In summary, two underage drinkers took a car that they were too young to drive, ran over a local and beat him to a pulp.

This has caused much anger and indignation but the rules here are clear - unless the Iraqi government hands over the twins, or in the unlikely event that Portugal declares the ambassador ‘persona non grata’, this attack will go unpunished.

The pilot training school which the Iraqis were attending is ‘looking into expelling the boys from the course.’ This, most regretfully, will probably be the only punishment that Portugal can mete out.

Advertisements for prostitutes, including some escort and massage services, in the classified section of some of Portugal’s family newspapers seems odd in a country with a strong religious roots and detailed legislation covering just about every human activity possible.

A lawyer in Coimbra decided to challenge the legality of these ads and lost the case.

Manuel Fernandes is convinced that not only are the newspaper proprietors guilty of pimping - profiting from prostitution - but also that the original judges are guilty of deliberately ignoring the clear evidence presented, an offence in itself.

Newspaper owners claim they need the income that these types of ads bring in, presumably the same argument used by those up before a judge on charges of pimping.

Fires in Portugal have been a problem this year, with many set deliberately by ‘drunk loners’, according to profiling experts.

What has been shown in dramatic relief is the lack of serviceable firefighting equipment and machinery which can be in place quickly to stop incidents getting out of control.

Transparency International’s Portuguese arm has written an open letter to the government demanding to know who is profiting from these fires, pointing especially at those who have been charging extortionate rental prices for airborne support.

There is increasing suspicion that it has been in certain people’s interests that fires are many and large. Without a clear account of how much has been spent on what and by whom, corruption will remain unchallenged.

It is outside the scope of any acceptable behaviour that anyone should reap excessive profits from fires, should this be proven to be the case no mercy can be expected from the press.

A 'dear reader' has sent in a crowdfunding link to support firefighters by fundraising to buy new equipment.

'A gift for the firefighters, a gift for all of us.'

To Blighty, where the current Tory government has come up with yet another excuse to do nothing about expatriate voting rights.

Successive governments have delighted in assuring those Britons living overseas for 15 years or more that the ban on their voting will be lifted, this promise has been in the Queen’s Speech no less, but when nothing was done to enable voters to take part in the recent Brexit vote, the government’s true colours started to be revealed.

The latest excuse is that the whole 15 year plus business it is ‘too complicated for civil servants.’ I remember, admittedly with no great clarity after so long, that Britain’s civil service used to do what the government demanded of it.

‘As electoral records are not kept as long as 15 years, it would be too difficult to confirm where an overseas voter used to live,’ claim the Whitehall mandarins, allegedly.

This excuse is so very foolish on so many levels, I wonder if it really is the opinion of the civil service, or just further government obfuscation.

This problem would disappear if expatriates could vote for a local MP in their country of residence, but the European Commission has failed to act on this simple change since the Treaty of Rome was enacted in 1958. As it stands, an estimated one million British living overseas are unable to vote for a member of parliament in the UK or in the country where they reside. How is this fair?

Loulé mayor Vítor Aleixo already has come in for criticism in the national and regional media for allowing the situation at water company Infralobo to run out of control.

This service supplier does nothing of the sort and is run by the Eng. José Eduardo Rodrigues Miguel whose treatment of his customers can politely be described as appalling.

It then should be no surprise than an excellent spoof website has appeared under the hitherto unallocated web address,

The site describes the entirely fictional water company ‘Infraloco’ and , in addition to being wickedly amusing, has some serious messages and explains the long-running scam that has been operating at the Vale Garrão, Vilas Alvas and Quinta Jacintina developments whose residents have been subsidising the pristine verges and immaculate calçada of Vale de Lobo.

There is more than overcharging going on at Infralobo but with the company being run by the mayor’s brother-in-law under an old style of mayoral patronage so favoured by local councils, the company needs to clean up its act or face censure and investigation.

Most are aware that some banks in Portugal have collapsed, but who remembers Banco Português de Negócios which collapsed in 2008 and was discretely nationalised before too many questions were asked. This bank, favoured by many top politicians of the day, later was sold off for €40 million to the Angolans. This single politically driven banking ‘rescue’ has cost us €3.2 billion so far, with the total rising each year as poor investments are sold off at a loss or unrecoverable loans written off.

Later on there was Banco Privado Português, Banco Espírito Santo, Banif… the taxpayers’ bill so far is €14 billion with Novo Banco’s sale and loss still be to be crystalised and €4 - €5 billion for Caixa Geral de Depósitos still to be arranged.

No wonder the national debt keeps going up and no wonder the government wants to know what is in our bank accounts in case it wants to allow us to ‘share the pain’ and help pay off these squandered amounts - residents of Cyprus will explain how this is done and how much this hurts.

This summary looks at the losses so far and the one common factor, the governor of the Bank of Portugal, Carlos Costa…

The case of the ‘fake ruin’ near Estoi was going to slip by as just another story of a local crook knowing the system and using it to enrich himself but it seems now that someone in the Algarve’s Regional Development Commission was deliberately delaying the neighbour’s complaint and trying to push through the plan for an illegal building to replace the ruin that never was.

This commission was run until recently by Davis Santos, who was sacked and now is the head of the Social Democrats in the Algarve.

Perhaps he would like to explain how the ‘fake ruin’ seems to have had the support and encouragement of at least one member of staff.

As for the four year delay in dealing with the complaint, neighbour Carlos Gonçalves said of the CCDR, "they ignored my complaint of 2012, ignored the technical opinion of the GNR’s environmental protection arm SEPNA, ignored the opinion of Engineer José Dantas, ignored Google Earth that proved the ruin was recently constructed and then busied themselves by studying rural tourism projects for the land in question in the hope that I would disappear."

Sr Gonçalves has not disappeared and nor has the blatant collusion of the CCDR in this illegal act - and, we suspect, in many more.

These beachside medical points along the Algarve have been a really good idea as most holidaymakers with stings, bites, sunburn and dehydration can be treated there and then by trained staff.

Thus, pressure on the region’s hospitals has been much reduced, which seems just as well with nurse strikes and a continuing lack of medical staff continuing to shame the region’s health authority.

The management of the 32 temporary beachside centres and their staff must be congratulated for this valuable and sensible initiative. This is joined-up thinking at its most effective.

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