LISBON, Portugal (AP) — A Portuguese court on Friday acquitted a former defense minister but convicted 11 others in connection with the theft of weapons from the national armory more than four years ago, according to the defendants’ lawyers and local media reports.
Former Defense Minister José Azeredo Lopes stood accused of malfeasance and conduct leading to a denial of justice, in relation to the mysterious reappearance of the weaponry in a nearby field four months after it was stolen.
The case was investigated by public prosecutors and police detectives. The prosecutors alleged that the then defense minister knew about a separate, secret plan by the Military Police to recover the stolen weapons after the heist that embarrassed the Portuguese armed forces.
The court found that military police working on the case struck a confidential agreement with the mastermind of the theft for the weaponry to be returned in return for his identity being kept secret.
The court sentenced the heist’s mastermind to eight years in prison, the longest sentence handed down, for arms trafficking and terrorism.
The court found he intended to sell the weapons on the international black market, at one point contacting Spain’s now-defunct Basque separatist militant group ETA.
Prosecutors valued the weapons at 35,000 euros ($40,000).
The other convicted defendants were given sentences of at least three years in prison. Some of the sentences were suspended.
Another 11 defendants were acquitted after the 14-month trial.
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