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March – Banks admit crisis as Madeleine coverage continues


While stories covering the disappearance of Madeleine McCann seldom appeared on the front pages of The Portugal News in 2008, stories revolving around the missing British toddler appeared 41 times the past year, with the beginning of March being one of those occasions. Portuguese financial institutions, in the wake of the sub-prime crisis that was initiated in the United States in August 2007, finally admitted they were in serious trouble while Lisbon was found to among the safest cities in Europe.

In the first week of March, The Portugal News travelled to the Algarve-Andalusia border to uncover details of claims by a taxi driver that Madeleine McCann had been in his taxi days after her disappearance.

Antonio Jose Castela Cardoso, or Castela as he is known in Vila Real de Santo Antonio, said he told police of his dramatic story within days of Madeleine being reported missing. Bizarrely, he suggests two of the four adults travelling with the girl resembled some of the then formal suspects in the case.

Speaking to The Portugal News, Antonio Castela, 67, says he is convinced the girl in his car on the evening of May 3rd was Madeleine McCann, who will have been missing for ten months this coming Monday.

“She had a defect to her eye, which made me remember my son, who has a similar defect”, explains Antonio Castela. He added: “As she was sitting on a man’s lap in the backseat, I could see her clearly in my rear-view mirror she also appeared to be twitching her chin a lot”.

The following week, and after a spate of tragic shootings, the government was forced into taking swift action. It announced that around two thousand police officers were to be trained to counter the growing sense of insecurity among citizens while simultaneously looking to reduce violent crime.

The announcement was made in a week where at least seven people were murdered, most of them in the Greater Lisbon Area.

Minister Rui Pereira, under fire since last year from the opposition for refusing to boost security forces, told Parliament back in March that the increase in the police contingent to 48,000 members, forms part of the government’s so-called Security Strategy for 2008, which includes a total of 15 measures.

In mid-March, readers were told that a number of leading financial institutions, supported by the governor of the Bank of Portugal, predicted that the sub-prime crisis and the lack of liquidity on the money markets would translate into home owners paying more on their mortgage repayments while bank charges for services rendered are also expected to rise.

“The cost of lending is going to increase”, predicted Governor of the Bank of Portugal Vítor Constâncio.

The event, staged to discuss national banking systems and world markets, attracted all the nation’s leading figures in the financial world with these high-profile guests predicting tough times for home owners.

“Until now, banks did not reflect the cost of lending correctly, and unless markets stabilise, there will have to be changes in the costs banks levy customers”, added the governor.

Vítor Constâncio’s comments followed views expressed earlier by the chairmen of a number of private banks who said that spreads or profits charged on the base interest rates are set to increase.

BPI chairman Fernando Ulrich expressed the fear that the effects of the current crisis had been under-estimated.

“I fear that we are all, including the regulators, under-estimating the negative consequences this situation will eventually have on the financial system”, he said.

Ricardo Salgado of BES said the first quarter of the year had been “more difficult” for banks, saying they have been forced to assume a more restrictive attitude in the issuing of new loans and mortgages.

Finance Minister Teixeira dos Santos, eased on his usual optimistic stance, by saying: “The final consequences of the sub-prime crisis are unclear, while its magnitude and impact remain unknown.”

March also witnessed the revelation Portuguese capital is the least likely city, in continental Europe, for a murder to occur. When including the leading cities of the 27 European Union member states, the only capital with a better rate is La Valetta, Malta, which saw none of its 7,000 inhabitants murdered during the period in question (2006).

In a move aimed at boosting the economy, the government announced in March it would reduce VAT by one point to 20 percent.

The rate change came into effect on July 1st, though few consumers will claim to have seen their shopping baskets become cheaper as a result.

Edition: 992


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