Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who resigned this week, told foreign investors on Saturday that the country is open for business and wants to remain attractive despite ongoing corruption investigations into “green” energy projects.
Mr Costa resigned on Tuesday following an investigation into allegations of illegality in his government’s handling of lithium and hydrogen projects, as well as a large-scale data centre. President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called elections for March 10. Mr Costa denies any wrongdoing.
The data center project, Start Campus, has been described as “one of the largest foreign direct investments in Portugal in recent decades.” The project’s CEO, Afonso Salima, is among those detained in the ongoing investigation. He denies any wrongdoing.
Allegations of government interference in plans by London-based Savannah Resources to build four open-pit lithium mines in northern Portugal are also being investigated. The company said it was cooperating with authorities, but neither it nor any of its employees were being investigated.
Lithium mining plans have faced strong opposition from local residents and environmental activists. They say the processes lack transparency and warn of “dangerous mixing” between decision-makers and mining companies.
Fearing that the recent developments would affect foreign investment in the country, Costa made a televised speech to calm investors, telling them that the country’s authorities were playing by the rules and that there were strict regulations.
“To all those who have placed their trust in investing in Portugal, I want to say that business investment today, and always, is desirable, welcome, and will be well received,” Costa said.
He added that “eliminating bureaucracy… with strict respect for the law” was one of his government’s priorities to implement projects that serve the national interest.
Costa’s Minister of Infrastructure, João Galamba, who previously served as Secretary of State for Energy, is another official named as an official suspect in the investigation. Mr. Costa will meet the President on Tuesday to discuss Mr. Galamba’s future.
Costa’s chief of staff, Vitor Escaría, was also detained. The authorities found approximately 76 thousand euros in cash hidden in his office located in the Prime Minister’s official residence. His lawyer said the money was not illegal.
Costa said: “Seizing envelopes containing money in the office of someone I chose hurts me… It puts me in embarrassment in front of the Portuguese, and it is my duty to apologise.” (Reporting by Katarina Demoni; Editing by David Gregorio)