Joana Marques Vidal: how Expresso chose her as figure of the year 2018

When he took office, In 2012, the perception of the world of Justice in Portugal was different. There had been a hasty closure of the investigation into the Freeport case and the coordination between the Attorney General of the Republic and the President of the Supreme Court of Justice had led to an order to destroy the wiretaps between José Sócrates and Armando Vara about the purchase of TVI by Portugal Telecom, in a secret deal allegedly set up at the request of the prime minister and which aimed to control social communication. The newspapers were full of stories about palace coups. Many people did not believe in the independence of the Public Ministry and Fernando Pinto Monteiro left the Palmela Palace still under the influence of a cinematic phrase, said by him in an interview that served to destroy the work of the two prosecutors who investigated Freeport: he compared the powers of his own position to those of the queen from England. He complained that he didn’t have enough authority to give orders and that his house was in a mess because of the interference of the Union of Magistrates of the Public Ministry.

Chosen in the middle of this war scenario by Pedro Passos Coelho and Cavaco Silva, when the economic and social crisis in Portugal was at its peak, along with the Portuguese’s frustration about the state the country had reached four decades ago. Every few years after democracy was achieved, perhaps Joana Marques Vidal had everything it took to behave like a true queen of England. Not only was she a woman, but she had a discreet posture, having, in addition, a lineage ancestry, within the Public Ministry, as the daughter of a former deputy attorney general, José Marques Vidal. But that wasn’t what happened. Discretion was accompanied by firmness.

In the interview he gave to Expresso and SIC in the last week he was in office, in October, he described how he exercised his powers behind the scenes: “The role of the attorney general is to promote organization, internal coordination and management capacity that allows judges to work better.†Therefore, the role of the attorney general is not to order, but rather to provide conditions to allow it to be done, in an implicit comparison with the recent past and being aware of all the effects that result from this commitment.

This way of managing the Public Ministry gave the impression that an era of impunity had ended. There were no longer untouchables and corruption was at the forefront of investigations. In just six years, and simultaneously, Justice began to face the greatest powers in Portuguese society: politics, business, high finance and football. For this reason, Joana Marques Vidal was chosen as figure of the year by the editorial staff of Expresso. Not just for what she did in 2018, but for the entire six years of her mandate. It was so discreet that there won’t be many phrases for which she will be remembered.


Even if there are one or two soundbites to remember – like the “little bird†telling her that she had not been reappointed and was, after all, António Costa – the controversy that surrounded her replacement remains in the memory. §tion. This was also one of the events of the year. The President of the Republic even had doubts, torn between Marques Vidal’s courage to open processes or the choice of someone with the same profile, but with renewed energy. But Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa ended up publicly agreeing with the assumption of the “long and single mandate†(which is not included in the law), central to the Government’s argument, and agreed with the Prime Minister on the appointment It is by Lucília Gago.

Before and after the replacement, the case generated political waves between the defense of Marques Vidal – for example, by a group of five prominent social democrats in an article in Expresso -, and the reactions appeals against “partisanship†on the part of the PS, left-wing partners and even Rui Rio.

The spectrum of politicization ended up becoming more pronounced a few hours after learning of the non-reappointment: Pedro Passos Coelho wrote an article in “Observador†saying that “there was no decency in assuming with transparency the reasons that led to the replacement†, focusing on the PS, and Cavaco Silva classified it as the “strangest†decision of the ‘geringonça’. The former Prime Minister and the former President who chose Marques Vidal were among those who raised the greatest doubts about the assumptions behind the decision. Was there a hidden intention on the part of political power (the Government) to return to a more timid Public Ministry that would not bother the powerful? That was the insinuation they left behind.

Throughout his mandate, there were two moments that served as trials by fire for Joana Marques Vidal. The first was when he decided to open an internal investigation into the MP’s elite unit, the Central Department of Investigation and Criminal Action (DCIAP), in 2013, changing its leadership in the process. By not reappointing Cândida Almeida – who had led the department since 2001, almost since it was created in 1999 – and by replacing her with Amadeu Guerra, a magistrate with no experience in the area of ​​crime but pragmatic, the attorney general gave a new dynamic to the team responsible for the most complex and sensitive investigations.


The following year, in 2014, the second critical moment of the mandate occurred. Reinvigorated in its new dynamic of action, DCIAP promoted the arrest of a former prime minister. Joana Marques Vidal recalled, in the interview with Expresso and SIC, the singularity of this arrest, admitting that she had advance knowledge of what was going to happen and her understanding of the matter, highlighting how, from her perspective, an attorney general “does not have to agree, because magistrates have autonomy in their processes†.

The preventive arrest of José Sócrates was an unprecedented surprise for the Portuguese, but not the only one. In a short period of time, names of rich and powerful people appeared in the news. A few days before the former head of Government was taken to preventive detention as he exited a plane at Lisbon airport, it was the turn of the president of the Institute of Registries and Notaries and a national director of a police force, the Foreigners and Borders Service (SEF), being detained in a criminal case that would lead to the dismissal of one of the most prominent members of Pedro Passos Coelho’s Government: the Minister of Internal Administration Miguel Macedo, who He was accused of corruption as part of the golden visa process.

In the banking sector, Portugal had already seen the arrest of Oliveira Costa, founder of BPN, but nothing compares to the magnitude of what happened with Banco Espírito Santo (BES) and Ricardo Salgado, also detained because of his involvement in a money laundering scheme investigated in Operation Monte Branco. Other processes, focused on the Espírito Santo universe, would follow.

Investigating big names and seemingly untouchable institutions became part of the routine. The PGR allowed an accusation against Benfica; left an ongoing investigation at EDP, constituting António Mexia and Manuel Pinho as defendants; and another to the public bank, Caixa Geral de Depósitos; gave carte blanche to arrest the director of the Military Judicial Police because of the assault on Tancos; and had no problems with a former DCIAP prosecutor being put on trial for being corrupted by a former Angolan vice-president, not putting any obstacles in the way of an accusation in Portugal against Manuel Vicente, despite the anxiety diplomacy that this provoked between Lisbon and Luanda.

The only episode that seemed likely to tarnish her at one point was when a TVI investigation revealed, at the beginning of this year, her involvement for almost two decades as a judge in the adoption case. from the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), when she worked as a prosecutor at the Lisbon Family and Minors Court. She was the coordinator of the team that authorized three children to be adopted and ended up in the care of UCKG pastors. Marques Vidal clarified, as soon as this news came out, that he ordered the opening of a criminal case and an internal investigation to clarify what had happened and use it as a lesson for the future. These investigations are not yet concluded, although there appears to be no evidence that she acted irregularly or incorrectly.


Francesco Giganti

Journalist, social media, blogger and pop culture obsessive in newshubpro

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