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.