Joana Marques Vidal: the attorney general who made the Public Ministry lose its fear

Women were already the majority in the Public Ministry when Joana Marques Vidal became the first prosecutor to head the house, after almost 40 years of democracy. Although his appointment in 2012 was not obvious, when there were other more famous names to eventually occupy the position of Attorney General of the Republic, the surprising and unique events of his mandate gave him the opportunity to prove that it was a providential choice. She is not so much because she is a woman, but because of the fiber she showed to have. Never before during its six-year reign at the Palmela Palace did the Public Ministry carry out such scrutiny of political and economic power in Portugal, putting an end to a time in which the independence and authority of the Public Prosecutor’s Office -General of the Republic had been weakened by the style of his predecessor in office.

Maria José Morgado, one of the most well-known and respected faces among women prosecutors in recent decades, summarized this Tuesday, hours after the news of her death, the most outstanding characteristics of Joana Marques Vidal’s profile: â “Combativeness, dignity, leadership capacity.â€

Born into a family of magistrates, daughter of the former deputy attorney general José Marques Vidal, there was a coincidence that one of her brothers, João Marques Vidal, was the prosecutor in the case that he broke, shortly before his appointment. and in a resounding and definitive way, the image of the Attorney General of the Republic Fernando Pinto Monteiro in public opinion.

In Face Oculta, a criminal investigation opened in 2009 into a scrap metal industrialist in Ovar, the then prime minister José Sócrates had been accidentally heard in a series of conversations with former minister Armando Vara about a secret deal in which Portugal Telecom (where the state still had a “golden share†) would buy TVI and help the political power to control social communication in Portugal. The wiretaps were presented by João Marques Vidal to the attorney general as indicating a crime of attacking the rule of law, but Pinto Monteiro ordered them destroyed and understood that there was no reason to open an investigation into the alleged Socrates’ plan to dominate the media.

At the same time, in the final phase of the investigation into the Freeport case, regarding alleged corruption in the approval of the Alcochete outlet conducted by two DCIAP prosecutors, the process was concluded in precipitately without questioning Socrates, despite the fact that he was from the beginning the main suspect denounced in a famous video recorded clandestinely. The list of 27 questions that remained to be asked was included in the final order of the inquiry by the magistrates as a protest against the pressure, coming from above, to close the case, bringing with it discomfort and an environment of intrigue and contradictions that the Attorney General’s Office never recovered from during the Pinto Monteiro era.

The test of nine

The irony of fate meant that Sócrates became, after this dramatic sequence, a kind of proof of the nine for Joana Marques Vidal, when the most prominent of the DCIAP prosecutors, Jorge Rosário Teixeira, decided to open a new criminal investigation against the former head of government, Operation Marquês, and wanted to arrest him in November 2014 while leaving a flight from Paris.

Already last interview which she gave to Expresso and SIC, in 2018, at the end of her mandate, the attorney general recalled how she was informed by Rosário Teixeira and the director of DCIAP of their intention to preventively arrest the former prime minister and how she faced this moment: “My concern was to ask: do they have sufficient foundations, in-depth evidence, in legal and factual terms? Have you verified the situation that leads to this procedural decision? ‘We do.’ Of course it is a serious moment. And all the judges involved are aware of the gravity. But that’s our job. The concern I always have in a more complex situation, with repercussions, is: did they analyze it well?, did they consider it well?, do they have legally sustainable facts? It’s the only question I ask. And another, when there begins to be an apparent delay, is to ask: what do they need to work?â€

Other high-impact criminal cases tested Joana Marques Vidal’s ability to restore the image of the Public Ministry. Among the most notorious were the investigations related to the collapse of BES and the collapse of the Espírito Santo Group, led by Ricardo Salgado, and the investigation into the bribery of a DCIAP prosecutor in which Manuel Vicente, former -vice-president of Angola, ended up being accused of corruption and the attorney general did not waver, despite the obvious diplomatic consequences of the case and the political discomfort it brought. “That’s why there is autonomy in the Public Ministry and separation of powers,†he argued in the interview with Expresso.

Although his actions were publicly called into question, not as a PGR but in relation to an old case of irregular adoptions in the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), it was not investigated nothing concrete against her as coordinator of the team of prosecutors at the Lisbon Family and Juvenile Court who authorized three children to end up in the custody of UCKG pastors. In 2019, the Superior Council of the Public Ministry would archive an open investigation into these contours.

The truth is that, over time, Joana Marques Vidal became an undisputed figure in the Palmela palace. At the end of her term, this consensus about her profile was so solid that many public voices spoke out in favor of a second term and her non-renewal in the position generated controversy. “There was no decency to admit with transparency the reasons that led to the replacement,†wrote Pedro Passos Coelho at the time in Observador.

At a time when her successor, Lucília Gago, has been publicly criticized for her management of Operation Influencer, regarding the autonomous process opened regarding a possible crime of malfeasance committed by António Costa while prime minister and the way he resigned as prime minister after being mentioned in a statement from the Attorney General’s Office in November last year, the news about Joana Marques Vidal’s death came accompanied by a single series of public reactions praising the rigor and impartiality with which he performed his duties.

“The firmness with which Joana Marques Vidal carried out her mandate, giving a new dynamic to criminal investigation, and the balanced way in which she managed highly complex cases, impressed me greatly”, he said in statements to Lusa is the former President of the Republic Cavaco Silva, who appointed her to the position.

When asked in the interview with Expresso and SIC about the attitude of the Public Ministry in not being afraid to investigate politicians with whom its mandate was marked, Joana Marques Vidal explained that this was far from being enough. “I often say, in reference to a great attorney general of the Republic, Arala Chaves, that he said that the essential quality of a public prosecutor is to be courageous. But courage alone is not enough. It takes knowledge, organization, rigor, defining priorities in what we invest in. It is precisely these other aspects other than fear that have been under fire in the new era of the Palmela palace.


Francesco Giganti

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

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