Portugal's former top banker, ex-minister sentenced to prison in graft case

FILE PHOTO: Ricardo Salgado, former CEO of BES

By Sergio Goncalves

LISBON (Reuters) - A Lisbon court on Thursday sentenced the former patriarch of the Espirito Santo banking family, Ricardo Salgado, to 6-1/4 years in prison for bribing former Economy Minister Manuel Pinho, who was sentenced to 10 years.

The case pre-dates the collapse of Banco Espirito Santo in 2014, for which Salgado has been the target of separate lawsuits.

Criminal court judge Ana Paula Rosa said there was "a corruptive pact" between Salgado and Pinho, who used to work at BES before becoming minister in 2005, for him to favour the interests of the Espirito Santo Group, such as licensing of agricultural and tourism projects.

The court found that Pinho and his wife used an offshore bank account in Panama to hide nearly five million euros ($5.4 million) that they had received from BES in monthly installments between his ministerial appointment and June 2012.

Salgado and Pinho had denied any wrongdoing and their lawyers said they were appealing the convictions.

In Portugal it can sometimes take many years to exhaust the appeals process in such cases, and defendants usually remain free until it is complete.

Pinho has argued that the money was part of his remuneration package when he left BES for the government job and that it was normal practice for the bank at the time to make such payments through offshore companies and often in tranches.

His lawyer, Ricardo Sá Fernandes, called the sentence "a virtual reality, based on ill-conceived presumptions and prejudices".

Salgado's lawyer Francisco Proenca de Carvalho said the former banker, now 79, suffered from Alzheimer's disease and for that reason alone he cannot be sent to prison, adding that he would "appeal to the last instance in higher courts".

It is the second prison sentence for Salgado. His appeal for the first conviction is ongoing.

After the collapse of the 150-year-old business empire of the founding Espirito Santo family, BES - then Portugal's largest listed lender - had to be rescued in August 2014 to the tune of four billion euros.

($1 = 0.9203 euros)

(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; editing by Andrei Khalip and Toby Chopra)