Portuguese Prime Minister resigns due to corruption scandal

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Plate indicating Portugal Prime Minister official residence is placed in Sao Bento Palace, Lisbon, Portugal, November 7, 2023. REUTERS/Pedro Nunes

Portugal’s Prime Minister, António Costa, resigned on Tuesday due to his government’s implication in a broad corruption investigation.

The police said the arrests were made under the suspicion of flight risk and to preserve evidence, with the investigation focusing on alleged misconduct and corruption of elected officials related to lithium mine concessions and a green hydrogen plant project. These projects were part of the European Union’s green initiative, supported by Costa, and by Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

Costa, aged 62 and the leader of Portugal’s socialist party since 2015, and former Mayor of Lisbon, maintained his innocence but announced his resignation in a nationally televised address, stating, “In these circumstances, obviously, I have presented my resignation to the president of the republic.”

This announcement followed the arrest of his chief of staff by the police, who also conducted searches in various public buildings and properties as part of the ongoing investigation. The state prosecutor’s office mentioned that the Supreme Court was looking into the use of the prime minister’s name and his involvement in potentially unlawful activities. Among the suspects named were the minister of infrastructure, Joao Galamba, and the head of the environmental agency.

President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa accepted Costa’s resignation, signalling the likely dissolution of parliament and the call for new elections.

Expressing trust in the justice system, Costa emotionally thanked his family for their support. He acknowledged his accountability as a prime minister and the need to resign if any suspicion arises.

Costa’s government had faced turmoil previously this year when the infrastructure and housing minister resigned amid controversy over a substantial compensation payment made to a board member of the state-owned carrier, TAP Air Portugal. This led to several other senior government officials leaving their posts.

Similar to other European nations, Portugal has been actively trying to increase renewable energy projects and decrease dependence on fossil fuels. The country’s pandemic recovery plan included investments in hydrogen and renewable energy projects. The government even aspired to export hydrogen produced from renewable energy sources as part of its larger objectives.

It has been a scandal-ridden road in Portuguese politics with corruption probes, charges and successive socialist prime ministers quitting while in office. The resignation of António Costa was preceded by José Socrates, and José Manuel Barroso who resigned to become the President of the European Commission, and Antonio Guterres before him, the now-Secretary General of the United Nations.

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