Corruption case The Portuguese Prime Minister resigns

Corruption case  The Portuguese Prime Minister resigns

(Lisbon) – Socialist Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa, who has been in power since 2015, resigned suddenly on Tuesday, due to a corruption case that led to the indictment of one of his ministers and his chief of staff.

“The duties of Prime Minister are not compatible with any doubt about my integrity. “In these circumstances, I have submitted my resignation to the President of the Republic,” Mr. Costa, one of the rare socialists at the head of a European government, told the press.

Mr. Costa made it clear that he would not seek a second term.

This resignation was accepted by the conservative head of state, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, according to the Portuguese presidency.

The latter immediately summoned elected party representatives to Parliament on Wednesday and then to the State Council on Thursday, as required by the constitution, before he could dissolve Parliament and call early elections.

The President will then address the nation to announce his decision, adds the press release issued by the Portuguese Presidency.

Socialist Party President Carlos Cesar said that the Socialist Party “is prepared for all scenarios, whether to hold early elections or to change the government leader.”

For its part, the main right-wing opposition party, the Social Democratic Party, called for early elections.

“We are ready,” Social Democratic Party leader Luis Montenegro said after a party meeting on Tuesday evening. It is a solution also shared by the Left Bloc (BE, far left).

The scandal involving Antonio Costa, according to the Public Prosecutor’s Office, raises suspicions of “embezzlement, active and passive corruption of political office holders and influence peddling” in the context of the allocation of licenses for lithium exploration, minerals and hydrogen production.

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The Public Prosecutor said in a press statement on Tuesday that during the investigation, “the name and authority of the Prime Minister were mentioned.”

He is suspected of intervening himself to “open the proceedings” in the context of this case, and Antonio Costa will once again be “the subject of an independent investigation,” according to the prosecution.

Speaking to the press, Costa said that he was “surprised” by the opening of this investigation, refusing to engage in “any illegal action.”

“No one is above the law […] “The judicial authorities are free to investigate,” said Mr Costa, who spoke to his ministers on Tuesday evening.

Frequent scandals

Investigators are more specifically interested in granting licenses for “lithium mine exploration” in northern Portugal, in a “project to produce energy from hydrogen” and in a “project to build a data center for the company Start Campus” in Sines, about a hundred kilometers south of Lisbon.

On Tuesday morning, a series of searches were conducted at the Prime Minister’s official residence, several homes, ministries and law offices.

Taking into account the elements collected by investigators, namely the “risk of flight and continued criminal activity”, the justice issued “arrest warrants” against the head of Mr. Costa’s office, the mayor of De Sines and two officials from the Start Campus.

Portuguese Infrastructure Minister João Galamba has been charged, as has the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Portuguese Environmental Protection Agency (APA).

The APA has already awarded, under certain conditions, projects to mine lithium, a metal used in battery manufacturing and essential for the energy transition.

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Portugal, which has Europe’s first lithium reserve, is already the main producer.

Coming to power in 2015, Mr. Costa governed for the first time as part of an unprecedented coalition between socialists, the radical left and communists.

After winning the 2019 elections, he strengthened his position during the new elections that took place in January 2022, which allowed him to obtain an absolute majority for the first time.

But Mr Costa has since seen his popularity decline due to recurring scandals.

The most prominent of these is the “TAP portal”, which bears the name of the general airline company, which led to the resignation of several members of the government.

The scandal erupted after a €500,000 severance package was paid to a TAP director, who then took control of the air traffic control company before taking up the role of Secretary of State to the Treasury a few months later.

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About the Author: Irene Alves

"Bacon ninja. Guru do álcool. Explorador orgulhoso. Ávido entusiasta da cultura pop."

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