Portuguese millionaire art collector arrested in tax fraud investigation

LISBON, June 29 (Reuters) – Portuguese art collector Joe Berardo, who was once one of the richest men in the country and displayed major works by Miró and Mondrian in his own museum, was arrested on Tuesday by the police in connection with a money laundering and fraud investigation.

Berardo has been under surveillance by authorities for years on suspicion of committing crimes related to nearly a billion euros in loans received from Portuguese banks.

Prosecutors and police say Berardo, 76, and one of his lawyers were arrested on Tuesday as part of an investigation into loans from Portugal’s largest bank, state-owned company Caixa Geral de Depositos (CGD), to an economic group headed by Berardo.

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Berardo and his lawyer were not immediately available for comment. In May 2019, Berardo told a parliamentary committee that he had no debt in his name and that the loans he was requesting were for companies with which he was associated.

Police said in a statement that the group received 439 million euros ($ 522.81 million) in loans from CGD from 2006 to 2009. It allegedly “broke contracts (with CGD) and resorted to renegotiation and restructuring of the debt in order to avoid amortization, ”he mentioned.

The prosecutor’s office said CGD’s internal procedures for granting the loan as well as its process for restructuring and subsequent credit recovery did not conform to “good banking practice and could constitute a criminal practice.” CGD declined to comment.

Prosecutors said more than 50 searches for evidence were underway, including private homes, banks and law firms in Lisbon, Sesimbra and Funchal, a city in the Madeira archipelago where Berardo is from. .

Police said that in total, Berardo had accumulated nearly € 1 billion in debt with three Portuguese banks – CGD, Novo Banco and Millennium BCP (BCP.LS), which filed a joint complaint in 2019 for attempt to collect debts.

The banks seized the art collection of the Museu Colecao Berardo in Lisbon in 2019 as collateral, and handed over the safeguard of the works to the State. The museum continues to operate. Berardo continues to own other collections.

Berardo is expected to appear before a judge within the next 48 hours.

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Reporting by Catarina Demony; Additional reporting by Sergio Gonçalves; Editing by Victoria Waldersee and Alison Williams

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Norma D. Ross