Sunday, August 30, 2015

Conman Ken sought, but not by police

In a strange twist in the tale of notorious conman Kenner Elias Jones, he is now being sought not by police but by his first wife who divorced him many years ago.
Having been deported from Canada and the United States, Ken Jones has managed to outwit police forces across Europe, including Portugal, while on the run and continuing his life of fantasy and fraud.
As exposed in the past by the BBC and in this blog, Jones has had a prolific criminal career spanning more than 40 years in which he has chalked up more than 60 convictions and plenty of imprisonments.
A highly intelligent and likeable Welshman, his skills are such that a senior American immigration officer who described him as “the best conman I have ever encountered in my entire career.”
An arrest warrant was issued in Britain in 2003 when he failed to turn up for a trial. Since then, police in the UK and countries in mainland Europe have been informed from time to time about his whereabouts and various alleged fraudulent activities, but they have taken no action against him.
His first wife, a Canadian, is not aiming to have him arrested; she wants to return some of his personal belongings and talk to him about a book she is writing. Donna Lee Mackenzie, a former TV journalist, has been trying without success to locate Jones via the internet.
He was last reported in Sweden, posing as a doctor and a priest, seeking political asylum as a refugee from Kenya.
The BBC reported that after fleeing from the UK twelve years ago, Jones spent seven years in Kenya pretending to be a doctor and a priest, although he had no qualifications in either of these fields. He is believed to be still married to his third wife, a Kenyan living in her homeland.
Jones set up a charity in Kenya called Luke's Fund, but left Africa in 2010 with unpaid debts of over $100,000. A warrant for his arrest exists in Kenya as well the UK, but not in mainland Europe.
He turned up in Portugal in 2011. A property agent in the town of Palmela, south of Lisbon, said Jones expressed interest in buying a house in the €400,000 to €600,000 price range. The property agent said Jones conned him into ‘lending’ hundreds of euros by claiming he needed the money urgently for medicine and other vital expenses, but that his foreign credit card was not compatible with the Portuguese system.
A Palmela travel agent said she handed over air tickets worth €2,500 on the understanding that Jones was transferring money from an overseas bank account so that his Kenyan wife and two adopted children could fly from Nairobi to Lisbon.
On realising she had been defrauded, the travel agent reported Jones to the criminal investigation police (PJ), but she never got paid for the tickets. The Cáritas charitable organisation in Sétubal is said to have paid for the Kenyan wife and adopted children to fly back to Nairobi at the end of their Portugal visit.
Jones’ next stop was in southeastern Spain where this picture was taken. His alleged behaviour included running up an unpaid bill of some €26,000 for a six-week stay and unnecessary medical tests in a district hospital.
In 2013 he turned up in Sweden. In a statement to the BBC in April this year police in Sweden confirmed they had received information about Ken Jones, but that it did not form the basis for investigating any suspected crimes he had committed in the country. The statement added that Jones was the subject of a police investigation in the UK, but because the police in Britain had not issued a European arrest warrant, they could not intervene.
We can now reveal that it was his estranged wife Donna Lee Mackenzie who posted a comment on Portugal Newswatch last month saying: “As someone who knew Kenner very well many years ago, I have some personal items I would like to return to him. Does anyone know how I could contact him to arrange this?  I will keep any such information confidential. If you can help, please reply to”.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Dethroning the kings of corruption

Just as the international news was getting really bleak and boring along comes Sepp Blatter to cheer things up and add to our waning excitement over former Prime Minister José Sócrates.
It turns out that apart from anything else, the diminutive Blatter is a dirty old man and nearly got a punch in the gob for eyeing up the glamorous girlfriend of John Dalaney, chief executive of the Irish Football Association. He stared at her for seven or eight whole seconds before Delaney warned him to “move on”, or words to that effect.
This revelation came after the shock news that thrice-married Blatter, aged 79, turned up at his re-election ceremony with another man’s wife, a stunningly attractive woman almost 30 years his junior.
All we are waiting for now is Sepp’s arrest. It may take a month or two, but stand by. Even the handful of people in this country who don’t follow football and had never heard of Fifa, or perhaps thought it was a brand of chocolate bar like KitKat or Crunchie, will be rejoicing. Corruption, particularly among the filthy rich and famous, is not appreciated, especially by those struggling with austerity.
Blatter’s tirade about how he was stitched up by the press and legal authorities raises smiles. We’d heard it all before from none other than Portugal’s former prime minister who is still banged up while a judicial enquiry continues into his alleged corruption and money-laundering activities.
Almost seven months after his arrest, Sócrates was this week faced with the choice of staying in his prison cell or accepting an offer of house arrest wearing an electronic bracelet. Easy decision for most of us, but José is not like us: he chose to stay in jail.
According to a survey by the anti-corruption organisation Transparency International, Portugal all but topped the list of nations urging Blatter’s removal from office. The Portuguese Football Federation and a whopping 97% of Portuguese respondents to the Transparency International global poll opposed his re-election.  
Transparency International has been critical of Portugal in the past but Portuguese prosecutors chalked up a major milestone by arresting the former prime minister last November. Newspapers in Portugal and beyond dubbed it a “political earthquake.”
Sepp Blatter knows a thing or two about earthquakes. He told critics it would take “an earthquake” to change Qatar's controversial hosting of the 2022 World Cup. Let the eruption begin!
The press used the word “earthquake” to describe the arrest of numerous senior Fifa officials, but that tremor was way, way off the Richter scale. The arrests are also said to be merely “the tip of the iceberg.” If so, Blatter is almost certain to be brought in shivering from the cold.
Sócrates was probably not in the same league as Blatter and there is no suggestion - not yet anyway - that the two collaborated. But both had been connected with scandals long before the one that brought them down. Both are suspected of involvement in complex “webs” of corruption featuring the movement of millions of euros around Switzerland and various dodgy offshore places. 
Although Sepp has yet to feel the hand on the back of his collar, his days of super luxury living may be severely numbered as his chirpy former Fifa friends start singing like canaries.
Both Blatter and Sócrates will have to come up with something better than the corny old line about being victims of press hate campaigns. Much of the groundwork on the Fifa scandal was done by top-notch investigative journalists. For once, the media are on the receiving end of accolades. Hard to believe it, eh?
Certain elements of the free press deserve hearty pats on the back for getting on with the job of digging out the truth about mega corruption and cover-ups, something that lackadaisical authorities in many countries have been turning a blind eye to for years.
Prosecutors in Portugal will probably be closely watching their counterparts in the US and Switzerland for hints on how to sharpen their knives, not only against the former prime minister, but the likely legions of other corrupt officials in this country.
       Even if he agreed to being released with a bangle, I think we could trust José, I think. But while Sepp remains at large, no woman can feel safe.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Amaral defiant about his Maddie book

Former detective Gonçalo Amaral has responded defiantly to the outcome of the civil action brought against him by Kate and Gerry McCann over his book about the investigation into their daughter’s disappearance.
The McCanns were awarded €500,000 plus interest in damages, but Amaral is adamant the book was not defamatory and was within his rights to freedom of expression. His views on the case are contained in an interview published in the Portuguese weekly magazine Nova Gente and reproduced on the website of Projecto Justiça Gonçalo Amaral.
“With my book I did not defame, nor did I have the intention to defame anyone, but merely to report what happened during the first five months of the investigation, thus replying to the attacks against my good name and my professional dignity.”
The information in the book is all in the Portuguese police case files and this was not in question during the McCann’s civil action, he said.
Asked if he felt wronged by the McCann’s legal action against him, Amaral insisted the parents were primarily responsible for their daughter’s disappearance because “they practiced a crime of exposing and abandoning defenceless children. The fact that they lost their daughter did not give them the right to sue anyone or to be compensated,” he said.
They can’t escape their guilt, which is enough to rob them of their sleep, to provoke a lack of appetite and even rage, but against themselves and not against someone who only wrote down what happened during the first five months of the investigation, according to what is in the case files.”
That Madeleine’s younger siblings may someday read his book and become traumatised by it did not concern him, he said.
Those two children were also abandoned for over five nights in a row and surely they will understand that what is written there is the result of a criminal investigation. There is a question that those two children will certainly ask when they grow up ,but that question will be directed at the parents: why were they abandoned, left to their own devices?”
As to what really motivated him to write Maddie: A Verdade da Mentira (Maddie, the Truth of the Lie), Amaral said he wrote it because his good name and professional honour, as well as that of those who worked with him, had been severely attacked.
Essentially the book was a way to reply to the insults he and his colleagues had been subjected to by the British press and others. “Deep down, that was it: they say we are incompetent, they say we are a third world police force, drunkards, fat, lazy, etc., etc., and the Judiciary Police does not set out to defend us. Therefore I turned to writing, reporting the investigation that had been carried out, so people could draw their own conclusions.”
In his latest interview, Amaral had no qualms about stating his views on the civil action or the McCann couple: “I am a free man and like any other citizen in this country I have the right to express my opinions.” 
He agreed that as a result of the court action he and his family had suffered greatly. “My life is gone. If I am alive, it’s due to the heart that I have.” But he does not intend to let the matter rest there or give up without a fight.
He reiterated that he will fight “until the last legal instance.” He intends to appeal the €500,000 damages verdict and is considering suing the McCanns.
Each thing in its own time, it won’t be only the McCanns, but their group of friends, and other people and entities that will be sued. There is an illicit action that was indeed performed, the neglect in guarding their children, which caused direct damages to many people, not only to myself, but for example to the Ocean Club workers who were fired and saw their lives change, many of them unjustly, passing from mere employees and heads of family to suspects in a criminal investigation while they had nothing to do with the matter.”
Meanwhile in the UK, the Mirror newspaper reports that Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, as saying that the search for Madeleine will not end until all avenues are exhausted. He was reacting to concerns raised by the Police Federation about the millions of pounds of public money devoted to the case.
Sir Bernard said of the investigation: “It’s moving on apace at the moment in terms of the relationship with the Portuguese and that is to be welcomed. As long as there’s a basis for doing the investigation we will continue.”

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Wonky weekend for European Union

A weekend is a long time in politics. It certainly was last weekend, especially for the future of the European Union.
Immediately before the election in Britain, it was no more than a possibility that the UK would hold a referendum on its membership of the EU. After the votes had been counted, possibility had shot up to certainty.
Amid the VE Day celebrations, the Sunday Times came out with the bizarre front-page headline: “Cameron launches blitz on Europe.”
The British prime minister has pledged to hold an ‘in/out’ referendum before the end of 2017. The result of the referendum will depend heavily on what Cameron can do between now and then to make the EU less “big, bossy and bureaucratic.”
His supposed arch-enemy in the EU, Jean-Claude Junckers, president of the European Commission, lightened things up by tweeting: “Congratulations, @David_Cameron for a resounding victory. I am ready to work with you to strike a fair deal for the UK.”
Still, by Monday the leader of Britain’s new Conservative government was reportedly drawing up plans to bring the referendum forward by a year to 2016 in order to avoid clashing with the French and German elections in 2017.
Meanwhile, last Friday the Greek prime minister, Alexis Tsipras, said he was confident his country’s struggle to repay its debts would “soon have a happy ending.”
Wishful thinking.
On Monday Greece managed to repay a paltry €750 million in IMF loans just hours before they were due, but officials in Brussels wearily reiterated that major issues remain unresolved, distrust still abounds, and time is running out to prevent the Greek debt crisis exploding.
Where does Portugal figure in all this? Well, as the IMF so politely put it last Friday, “Portugal’s medium-term interests are still clouded by legacy problems.”
The prospects of both a Greekexit and a Britexit from the EU are increasing all the time but a Portugalexit is not on the cards, not yet anyway.
As one of the EU’s most vulnerable member states after Greece, Portugal is keeping its head down and trying to play by the rules. And yet Prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho made an unusually bold statement on Europe at a conference in Italy on Friday. He proposed the creation of a European Monetary Fund to take over any future eurozone bailout responsibilities from the Washington-based IMF, and thus provide a purely European solution to such problems.
Neither of the main parties in Portugal has welcomed the IMF’s latest urgings for more austerity in the shape of further cuts to government spending. With a general election coming this September or October, how the Social Democratic Party (PSD) and the Socialist Party (PS) intend to handle the Troika and resolve the economic crisis will be uppermost in the minds of Portuguese voters.
Passos Coelho’s ruling centre-right coalition has steadfastly kept to its bailout pledges, and while the main opposition Socialists are against austerity they are not proposing a cop out on repayment commitments.
The Socialists have interpreted this year’s Greek far-left political transformation as “a sign of change in the orientation of Europe of how austerity policies have reached a limit and of the necessity of new policies.”
Both the main political parties want this country to remain a member of the European Union, but the union may be on its way to taking on a very different complexion.
If a weekend is a long time in politics, imagine if you can what might happen to the EU over the next year or so.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Tension festers 70 years after VE Day

On the 70th anniversary of the formal end of World War II between the Allies and Nazi Germany, Europe once again finds itself in a perilous situation.
Officially a neutral non-participant in World War II,  Portugal became a founding member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) four years after the war ended. It remains a valued partner.
During a recent visit to Lisbon, the chief of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg noted, “we are facing a dramatically changed security environment in Europe.” He was referring to new and serious threats from both north and south.
Stoltenberg, the former prime minister of Norway, praised Portugal for its contribution to NATO’s presence in north-eastern Europe in the face of hostility from Putin’s Russia.
He welcomed Portugal sending ground troops to Lithuania and F-16 jets for joint patrols in the Baltic airspace bordering Russia.
Portugal was involved last month in the first military drills of NATO’s new Spearhead Force, a very high readiness joint task force that can be deployed 48 hours after receiving an order to move. 
This autumn, Portugal will be one of the countries hosting Trident Juncture, NATO’s biggest exercise since the end of the Cold War. The five-week exercise will involve more than 25,000 troops at various locations in Portugal, Spain and Italy.
The aim will be to train and test the NATO Response Force, a high readiness and technologically advanced force comprising of land, air, maritime and special forces units capable of being deployed quickly on operations wherever needed.
None of this will be lost on ISIS operating in Syria and Iraq. While security forces are alert to the possibility of isolated jihadist terror attacks in this country as in others in Europe, the expressed intention of Islamic extremists to renew the centuries-old Umayyad Caliphate in southern Portugal and Spain remains nothing more than a fanatical pipe dream.
Meanwhile, ISIS and all other potentially hostile forces know that an attack on any one member of NATO would be treated as an attack on all.
Relatively modest in EU terms, Portugal’s defence budget is 1.1% of GDP, the same as Germany and Italy but lower than France and Britain. The number of military men and women on active duty totals 43,000, backed by a reserve force of 212,000 and 47,000 paramilitary personnel. It works out at a fairly high total per 1,000-capita population.
The Portuguese military have seen action over the past few years in combating piracy off Somalia and the Horn of Africa, and contributing to UN peacekeeping missions. Most recently they have been called upon to help with the EU’s “comprehensive response” to the North African migrant crisis.
There is no simple solution to this ongoing migration problem, but EU leaders have agreed to triple funding to help rescue operations and stop people-smuggling boats.
Participation in all of this is not easy for a small country immersed in an EU-wide economic crisis that could get worse before it gets better, but Portugal is playing its part in keeping Europe peaceful.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Amaral to appeal McCanns' libel action

 The McCanns partially won their libel action against the author and former lead detective Gonçalo Amaral, but the matter is far from over.
Amaral intends to appeal. In his first comment on the verdict he said: “I find that the court’s decision is unfair and questions my right and every Portuguese citizen's right to freedom of expression and of opinion. For that reason, I do not resign myself to the decision and I will appeal it until the very last judicial instance.”
Apart from Amaral’s assertion on the “unfairness” of the court’s decision, there were two remarkable features about the verdict and the way in which it was announced that got little or no mention in the mainstream media coverage.
The first unusual aspect was the huge sum awarded. It may be normal in the UK, but not here. Amaral was ordered to pay the parents of Madeleine McCann half a million euros in damages, plus interest, currently calculated at €106,000 and rising.
Kate and Gerry McCann had sought a total of €1.2 million. In addition to €250,000 each, they claimed €500,000 for Madeleine and €100,000 for each of their twins. The judge ruled against the claims on behalf of the children.
The McCanns successfully claimed that Amaral’s book, Maddie, the Truth of the Lie,  caused them great personal distress. The judge did not agree, however, that the book had hindered the search for Madeleine or had caused damages to the twins.
 Should Amaral on appeal get the verdict overturned, or the compensation figure greatly reduced, the McCanns may lodge a counter appeal. The deadline for appeals is 40 days. The legal battle that has been going on for more than five years looks like continuing for some time yet.
A defiant Amaral supporter noted that, “a decision from a Portuguese court can only be enforced after all appeals are exhausted. No money will change hands until a final decision is reached by the very last appeals court.” With this in mind, other well-wishers are being urged to make donations to a Gonçalo Amaral defence fund.
The second oddity was the way in which the announcement of the verdict was handled. The judge’s ruling was not read out in court. It was contained in a 52-page report, which was received by the McCann’s Lisbon lawyer Isabel Duarte who swiftly passed it on to media organisations in Portugal and abroad.
Soon after the news appeared on media websites on Tuesday, Kate and Gerry McCann said they were “delighted” with the outcome.
In a statement issued by their spokesman Clarence Mitchell, they said the case had never been about money. “It was entirely focused on the effect of the libels on our other children and the damage that was done to the search for Madeleine.”
When contacted by journalists the same day, Gonçalo Amaral chose not to comment because neither he nor his lawyer, Miguel Cruz Rodrigues, had received a copy of the ruling. They only received it the following day, by which time to many in the mainstream media it was old news.
        Madeleine went missing on 3rd May 2007.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

April 25: time for another big change?

Forty-one years on from the joyous Carnation Revolution that ended half a century of dictatorship, the Portuguese are unhappy. According to the latest Eurostat opinion poll on the subject, the only less happy people in the whole of the European Union are the Bulgarians
“Overall, how satisfied are you with your life these days?” the Eurostat poll wanted to know. The answers showed that the least dissatisfied were those in the 16 to 24 age group.
Of course the respondents did not include the young who have left in droves to seek work and a better life abroad. Nor did the poll take into account the birth rate in Portugal, which is the lowest in Europe and well below the death rate, another factor adding to the growing vacuum of desperately needed dynamism and innovation.
The over-50s - the pre-revolution generation - registered the greatest dissatisfaction, according to Eurostat. Ask them now about the ‘old days,’ and they will tell you that everyday life has greatly improved and become much easier in many ways, but gone backwards in others.
Around the time of the revolution, most people at least nominally still believed in God. Now they find it hard to believe in anyone in authority, especially politicians. Salazar seems like a saint compared to the recent and current crop of administrators.
Strict authoritarian rule has gone, but a more insidious kind of control in the form of bureaucratic regulations at every turn is now limiting freedom. Small businesses will certainly attest to that.
The high hopes of 1975 have been replaced by widespread despair. Few working people will find much to celebrate on o Dia da Liberdade this year.
Foreigners unaware of Portugal’s long history steeped in oppression find it strange that pessimism and low self-esteem should be so prevalent in a culture that these days is one of Europe’s most open, welcoming and tolerant.
Some Portuguese argue it is time for another transformation, not initiated by idealistic young army officers, but by a groundswell of public opinion demanding a fundamental change in economic and social conditions to end the debilitating status quo.
Ironically, part of this is due to membership of the European Union, which for two decades from 1986 opened the country to greater stability, confidence and wealth - until it all started to come crashing down in 2008.  
Just before the 1974 revolution, Portugal’s economy was growing at well above the European average. Second only to Greece, it is now reckoned to be Europe’s most vulnerable.    
The hollowed-out middle class and those at the lower end of this deeply unequal society have taken the brunt of the austerity measures imposed by the government at the behest of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.
It was the previous Socialist government that agreed to aid at a terrible price from the Troika. Since the last election four years ago, the right-of-centre coalition leader Pedro Passos Coelho has been unswerving in his commitment to Portugal’s bailout programme.
In the face of political and public opposition to austerity and harsh structural reforms as the remedy to the sovereign debt crisis, the government has stuck to its guns. Along with Ireland and Spain, the government in Portugal has rejected Greece’s antagonistic efforts to gain special concessions. In seeking to create economic and fiscal stability, Portugal has adhered to the agreed hard terms.
The Socialist leader António Costa says that far from being a panacea, the bailout programme has been a deplorable failure that has produced nothing but poverty and misery.
For what it’s worth, Central European Bank president Mario Draghi thinks Portugal is a success story for the European Union’s financial policies.
“Portugal has reached the stage where it is fully reaping the benefits of the measures that have been undertaken in the past years,” he said.
Despite such talk, the lack of public confidence in authority and the division of opinion over the way the government is handling the country’s economic and social woes run deep.  
Yet there seems little appetite as in Spain to follow Greece and switch to a radical new party to replace the entrenched two-party system. A hung parliament in Portugal’s next general election this autumn could even result in a grand coalition, as tried in 1983-85 under Mário Soares and now in operation in Germany.
In announcing his candidacy as an independent in next January’s presidential election, businessman and former Socialist member of parliament Henrique Neto made the point that both sides of the political spectrum need to be utilised to solve Portugal’s problems.
The most pressing of the problems include unemployment, currently running at 13.5% overall, 35% among the young. As ever, corruption at all political and social levels is appalling.
Corruption is the country’s “biggest evil,” according to the former deputy mayor of Porto Paulo Morais who has also announced his candidacy for president of the republic. He has said he wants to “increase transparency” and “recover the respect for the main constitutional principles that have become systematically forgotten.”
Wider worries persist over the very future of the Eurozone as Greece wobbles ever closer towards default and a likely exit from the euro. Yet more crunch talks between EU finance ministers are being held this week, but commentators are unanimous that time is running out.
       All is not lost for Portugal. Aside from the real possibility of a Eurozone meltdown, much depends on the outcome of the autumn general election. Anxiety and tension prevailed from the turmoil of 25th April 1974 until the first free elections in 1975 and 1976. Maybe history will repeat itself. Perhaps some real relief and hope for better days will be forthcoming. 

 25th April 1974, celebration…..

…..  protests four decades later