At the beginning of the year, research showed that economic crime has risen from between three to four billion euros per year in Portugal; with the year ending, we ask whether legislation is doing enough to curb this figure. Now with recent regulations applied by the Foreign Tax Compliance Act to administrate cooperation between the US and Portugal, Miguel dos Santos Pereira, Founding Partner of SPASS – Santos Pereira & Associados – Sociedade de Advogados, SP, gives us great insight into the developments of the Portuguese justice system, how they achieve the best outcomes for their clients and representing for white collar crimes.
What criminal law segments would you say you are most involved in? What motivated you to embark upon a career focused on this practice area?
White collar crime cases, as at the beginning of my studies there were some films that made me want to be a defence lawyer. In practice, I understand that criminal lawyers fight for human rights and can make a real difference in people’s lives. What more could a lawyer want?
What are the most recent regulatory developments surrounding civil crimes and related to criminal law in Portugal?
At the moment, there are several mandatory rules and regulations coming from both national and international laws. To avoid, for example, tax evasion there is the decree law n. º 64/2016, of 11th of October, about Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA). It generally requires that foreign financial institutions and certain other non-financial foreign entities report on the foreign assets held by their U.S. account holders, or be subject to withholding on withhold able payments.
What are currently the biggest obstacles pertaining to criminal conviction and litigation therein in Portugal / globally, and as a thought leader, what solutions do you envision?
One of the biggest problems is the sentences based on court conviction without real proofs. That sometimes happens because the case is in the news and gets a “public sentence” or the Judge has heard too much about the investigation out of court, or even because the accused is a public and thus exposed person.
In Portugal, it´s time for Public Prosecutors to come out of the court building and stop socialising in the halls and offices and having lunch with Judges; they are human and talking about anything can easily lead to comments about the cases. We should adopt the Anglo-Saxon criminal law system in this aspect.
In any way, a country cannot be sure that the economic criminal cases are being performed according to the presumption of innocence and with the guarantees and rights of a due process.
As a partner at a boutique law firm like SPASS, how difficult can it be to assure your clients of the best quality and outcome in your work?
Fortunately, I have the honor to work with a fantastic team, they have huge technical skills, work capacity, great responsibility and a wonderful team spirit. These aspects make things work very well.
In fact, we all have passion on what we do, which makes the team to ensure total dedication, availability and support towards the Client.
How are you currently working to change the Portuguese criminal law landscape and develop or implement new measures in the country’s law?
I try to do my best in all cases that we have and, in the past, I was a member of the Work Meeting with the OECD Evaluation Team, at OECD invitation, regarding Portugal’s evaluation process within the context of the OECD Convention against the corruption of Foreigner Public Agents, but I believe Portugal has enough legislation to prevent economic crime. The improvement may come from more accurate supervision, more legal advisory and more control in capital movements.
As referred in the above paragraphs, the change of paradigm that I think Portugal needs is adopting the Anglo-Saxon system of Public Prosecutors outside of court buildings and I have written a few things about that.
As a thought leader, how are you reinventing strategies and developing new ways of working in this segment, for the benefit of your clients?
Acting on white-collar crimes it is very important to be tested in criminal matters, but also in tax, financial, commercial and corporate law, you can work with multidisciplinary teams; you should do it but you need to be well prepared. See the entire picture, dominate the court room, be one step ahead of everybody, and don´t underestimate anybody, learn every day and study the law and the cases as much as you can.
Memory is also a great feature for a barrister. Although not everybody admits that you learn a lot seeing other colleagues’ court room performances. Doing sports, dance, mindfulness or yoga can be good for your body and soul and it helps you to have more focus. All of this you can practice, and you can stimulate your team to do the same.
Business integrity and commitment to obey the law are key values due to required diligence procedures by our corporate/commercial clients.
Settling and working with our clients on an integrated mindset for the important areas, like Commercial, Labour, Tax and Contracts, help us and our clients to prevent several problems, but also if problems are evident, we can quickly solve them because we can see the big picture since we know our clients by maintaining day-to-day contact.
Details matter and SPASS works for and with their clients along the way.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Working prepares you for the challenges of current criminal law practice, but besides that we believe that excellence and service can live hand in hand with reverence and fun and there is nothing better than doing your job with passion and be the best as you can be.
Do you have a mantra or motto you live by when it comes to helping your clients?
Life is a work in progress, enjoy it!
What motivates you most about your role?
Making a real difference in people’s life.
What do you want to achieve in 2017?