A long-running corruption investigation seemed to be going nowhere fast, until some remarkable claims against Porto’s president were made by his ex-wife. Phil Town wonders where it will all end
Apito Dourado (Golden Whistle) is the code name for an ongoing investigation by the judicial police into corruption in Portuguese football. The investigation has its roots in the 2003-04 season, when widespread phone-tapping was conducted by the police, following up tip-offs from as yet anonymous sources. There has always been a vague notion of a “system” in the Portuguese game, with, depending on your allegiances, Benfica and FC Porto at the forefront of suspicions, but Apito Dourado is effectively skewering actual protagonists left, right and centre.
In the first wave, club presidents, league and federation representatives, local politicians, agents, lawyers, referees and refereeing council officials were implicated. But little by little, even methodically, the various cases under investigation were being shelved, prompting cries of “foul play” from the more attentive.
Last December, however, a book was published that would pump new lifeblood into the scandal. Eu Carolina was Carolina Salgado’s account of her six-year marriage to Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, Porto’s club president. Carolina met Pinto da Costa in 2000 at a Porto bar of dubious repute, Calor da Noite, in which she was working. Their first dance was Sting’s Brand New Day – “Love has a cruel and bitter way” went the song, auguring far from well for the Porto president. Carolina’s kiss-and-tell book and the various accusations aimed at her ex-husband (despite the dedication: “To Jorge Nuno Pinto da Costa, for all he taught me”) revived the investigation.
On the basis of the book, the public prosecutor’s office put Maria José Morgado, a Margaret Thatcher/Red Adair hybrid, in charge of proceedings. Files started flying off the shelves and, to date, Pinto da Costa has been charged on three counts of bribing referees. All three charges involve games in José Mourinho’s triumphant 2003-04 season, in which Porto won the Champions League and the domestic title by 12 points from Benfica.
The games involved included a 0-0 draw at Beira-Mar and a 3-2 win for Nacional over Benfica (Nacional president Rui Alves has also been implicated), both games refereed by an alleged favourite of Pinto da Costa, Augusto Duarte. In the book, Carolina describes how Pinto da Costa gave him “a thick envelope”. But the most sensational accusation of the three was that Pinto da Costa bribed the referee who took charge of Porto’s 2‑0 win over Estrela da Amadora, who finished up with a lame 17 points from their 34 games. “They [the match officials] called to ask for fruit tonight. Can I take it to them?” intermediary António Araújo asks Pinto da Costa on one of the tapped phone calls. The “fruit” was allegedly code for three Brazilian prostitutes. They subsequently gave evidence to the public prosecutor and then returned to Brazil.
Pinto da Costa’s problems do not stop at accusations of bribery, though. In something resembling a Sopranos episode, Carolina Salgado also fingered her former husband for a hit job, outside the scope of Apito Dourado. She alleges that in early 2005, the Porto president asked her to arrange for Ricardo Bexiga, a local councillor who was apparently a witness to Pinto da Costa’s corrupt practices, to be duffed up. “Jorge asked me to make contacts, I did, the job was done and I paid them,” she told TSF Radio. Bexiga escaped with a broken arm, but, as Salgado told TSF, it was meant to go further. She claimed that Pinto da Costa’s attorney, Lourenço Pinto, had called and told her: “Congratulations, darling… but he’s still talking.” Pinto da Costa faces between ten and 25 years in prison if found guilty on this charge.
There is grudging respect in non-portista Portugal for a man who, in 25 years as Porto president, has turned what was a provincial club into one that has been champions of Europe twice and has eclipsed nearest rivals Benfica to the tune of 15 domestic titles to seven in this period. But diehard non‑portistas are rubbing their hands at these developments. Most fans in the south of the country dislike Pinto da Costa for his arrogance, regionalism and, most important, power in the game; he is not nicknamed O Papa (The Pope) for nothing.
He is currently the Apito Dourado suspect providing most satisfaction to the media sharks in their feeding frenzy, but other figures may join him in the spotlight. These include 39 referees, the former Liga president Valentim Loureiro, other Liga and Federation officials and various club presidents.
Meanwhile, O Papa awaits his fate. “I have faith in the justice of the courts and divine justice,” he said recently. If the notoriously sloth-like Portuguese legal system can get its collective finger out, and under the whirlwind that is Maria José Morgado it seems more possible than ever, we may see the former run its course soon enough.
From WSC 246 August 2007