‘Bungs for burgers’ case – Air Force Sergeant ‘shocked’ by amount of cash he amassed
The latest defendant in Operation Zeus, concerning the cash bungs handed out to armed forces’ personnel in exchange for flagrant over-invoicing by bent suppliers, said he felt awful about taking the money but was frightened what would happen if he didn’t.
Sergeant Antonio Paulo is the third defendant to be heard in the corruption case that should end a scheme that has gone on for decades, each subsequent administration of Air Force messes continuing the ‘bungs for burgers’ scheme, claiming they were powerless to stop it.
During his appearance at the Court of Sintra on Monday, Sergeant Paulo used the word “fear” at least four times, saying he was in a state of panic when he discovered that he needed to play along with the scheme as officers higher up the military tree were expecting their cash handouts.
“I was in a panic, in constant stress. These were terrible moments of suffering,” said Sergeant Paulo in an attempt to explain why he never counted the money that was in the envelopes that were delivered to him at the Monte Real air base where he worked between 2013 and 2016.
“They told me this was an octopus,” with tentacles stretching throughout he service, claimed the defendant, adding that he and complicit colleagues all felt like they were “trapped in a hole,” especially after they discovered that several Colonels and a General were involved.
Afgter 35 years service in the Air Force, Sergeant Antonio Paulo’s take home pay was around €1,200 a month. The extra cash he received, he hid it in a room at the airbase, in a shoebox, in the trunk of his car, and at a holiday home that he rented every year.
The Police found a total of €125,000: €100,000 was Paulo’s and a further €25,000 was from another sergeant.
“I was afraid to mess with it, so I saved the money. I did not know how much I had,” he assured the judges. Paulo told the court that he was shocked by how much he had hidden away over the years, “I’ve never had so much money in my life.”
“I am by nature a fearful individual, and I continue to be afraid,” said the timid Sergeant, saying that he feared that he would suffer reprisals if he denounced the situation, even today he claims to be afraid.
Operation Zeus has 68 defendants, mostly from the military, but also some from the food suppliers who supplied the cash.
Some Air Force members have confessed they were part of the scheme, thus incriminating their colleagues, but several others denied their involvement during the investigation phase of the process, including one General who may, or may not deign to speak in Court.