The future of Francisco Briones is already in the hands of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The National Court has raised to this body the case initiated by Portugal against the former president of the Philatelic Forum, sentenced to almost 12 years in prison in Spain for leading one of the largest pyramid schemes in the recent history of the country, with nearly 200,000 affected. Portugal requested that the former director be handed over to face another sentence of six years and six months in prison for the Portuguese derivative of the Forum Philatelic macrofraud, but the Court rejected it in the first instance and ordered that he serve that sentence in Spain. Now, the court sends the case to the CJEU after the defense appealed considering that he was punished twice for the same acts.
Through a resolution issued on March 2, to which EL PAÍS had access, the National Court agrees to raise a series of preliminary questions to the CJEU. Among other matters, the magistrates of the Second Section of the Criminal Chamber raise the arguments of Briones’s lawyer, who rejects Portugal’s claims, considering that he has already been sentenced in Spain for the same acts for which he is punished in the neighboring country, “because of what the exception of res judicata raises.”
The lawyer of the former president of the Forum assures that, if they accept Portugal’s initiative, the principle of non bis in idem —that is, a person would be punished more than once for the same acts. According to the defense, the fraud committed and judged in Spain included that of the neighboring country, since it was part of the same structure. However, the Prosecutor’s Office discards this thesis and maintains that these are different events: “The Portuguese ruling refers to events that occurred in Portugal that affect people other than the Spanish.”
The National Court sentenced Briones in 2018 to 12 years, 4 months and 16 days in prison for creating the “paradigm of the pyramid scheme”. Although the Supreme Court later reduced the sentence to 11 years and 10 months, it confirmed the ends of the ruling. Forum sold some stamps that were not worth even a small part of the money that customers gave, and that did not appreciate in value. Only by recruiting new fraudsters was it possible to return the capital invested to the old ones plus the high interest rates promised, higher than those offered by the banks. “But the business produced constant losses,” read the sentence.
Briones was part of the Board of Directors of the Philatelic Forum since October 1992, and held the position of president from January 2001 until the dismantling of the group in 2006 by the National High Court. In 2018, this body also imposed a fine of 49.7 million euros on Briones.
The Portuguese case
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
As explained by the National Court in its resolution of March 2, Portugal issued a European Arrest and Surrender Order (OEDE) against Briones after the Judicial Court of the Lisbon Region also sentenced him in 2020 to six years and six months in prison. for committing a crime of fraud through Initiatives of Gestão, the subsidiary of Fórum Filatélico in that country. A fraud that imitated the Spanish model and that amounted to 19 million euros, according to the information sent by the Portuguese authorities: “The stamps were worth, on average, approximately 10% of the value that the investors paid, and they were not revalued in a reasonable way. that could support the guaranteed returns”.
After receiving the OEDE, the Central Court of Instruction 1 of the Court, headed by Judge Alejandro Abascal, rejected last December the delivery of Briones, who is currently serving a sentence in a Spanish prison for the Forum scam. The body led by Abascal considered that it was not appropriate to “deal with a citizen of Spanish nationality”, but agreed that the sentence of six years and six months imposed in Portugal would be served in Spain. A decision that was appealed before the Second Section of the Criminal Chamber, which has decided to refer the case to the CJEU before deciding.
The Second Section not only asks the EU court whether, by applying Portugal’s sentence, the principle of non bis in idem. It also asks about the capacity of a State to “establish corrective measures” in the execution of sentences imposed in another country to “avoid the lack of proportionality of sentences” when punishing crimes that “make up a factual or legal unit.” According to the judges, if the non bis in idem and the sentences imposed in Spain and Portugal cannot be merged (or the Portuguese sentence adapted to the Spanish one), there is no other possibility than to add “arithmetically” the six years and six months in prison to the effective sentence that Briones must serve in prison . That would mean a greater punishment than decreed if it had been judged jointly in Spain, according to the resolution.
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