Disgraced former prime minister José Sócrates went on the attack yesterday afternoon, calling a press conference to announce that he is suing the Portuguese State over the “unacceptable” delays in the investigation into alleged corruption that has had him in its spotlights since 2014.
“If the State doesn’t archive (the case) or accuse, then I will accuse”, he told reporters, barely concealing the fury of a man who claims to be the victim of political persecution.
For now, he is not setting a figure for damages – saying this will be a matter for the courts – but he said that, if necessary, he will be taking the issue all the way to the European Court of Human Rights.
Sócrates’ blistering tirade came hours before national tabloid Correio da Manhã published a seven-page supplement on what it calls “the scandal of corruption” alleged to involve as much as €22 million meticulously ‘laundered’ through intermediaries and offshores to cloak the final recipient (purportedly José Sócrates).
According to CM, the public ministry “has more than 2000 pages of accusation” against Sócrates’ ready and waiting.
“All the structure” of the case has been consolidated, says the paper, “although there are still a few more witnesses to hear” and investigators have to “again question all the suspects” before the March 17 deadline, stipulated by Attorney General Joana Marques Vidal last September.
CM goes so far today as to suggest that the March 17 deadline could even be extended. But it affirms “one thing is certain, Sócrates will be accused of passive corruption, and (former boss of the collapsed Banco Espírito Santo) Ricardo Salgado of active corruption”.
CM pre-released news of its Saturday special “corruption dossier” during the week, so it is unlikely that Sócrates’ press conference on Friday afternoon was unaware of the looming exposé.
Certainly, the former Socialist leader showed every sign of being highly upset as he made his announcement and then opened the floor to journalists’ questions.
The thrust of Sócrates’ attack was two-fold. The first line centres on what he calls the “scandalous violation of maximum terms”.
“The law is not an indication”, he told reporters. “It is not an advice. The law is imperative”.
“The longest term for an investigation under the Portuguese penal code is 18 months”, he said, stressing that the so-called Marquês inquiry (named after the area in Lisbon in which he lived when he was arrested) has already exceeded this by two years, without a single charge having been brought against any one of the defendants, but more pointedly, without a single charge being made against the prime suspect: José Sócrates.
Claiming “abusive detention” for his months in jail and under house arrest and “evil imputations without foundation” as well as a “campaign of defamation” in which he says he has been persecuted without being privy to the charges being formulated against him, Sócrates also laid into some of the most high-profile accusations that have made it into the press, despite Portugal’s so-called ‘strict’ Secrecy of Justice ruling.
The allegations relating to business dealings with Group Lena are “evident to everyone” as being “false and unjust”, he said – while suggestions that he had used his influence to ‘favour’ major building projects are “a monumental ambush”.
Theories too that he tried to change the Algarve development programme (PROTAL) in favour of Vale do Lobo resort, or that he tried to influence business dealings with Portugal Telecom, were equally trashed as the former political leader continued his tirade, flanked by lawyers Pedro de Lille and João Araújo.
As all reports on the press conference concluded, Sócrates is just one of 20 people caught up in the intricate web of Operation Marquês which is understood to interweave with a number of other major investigations into alleged institutional corruption (Operation Labyrinth – Golden Visas; Operation Monte Branco – banking fraud, BES – specific banking fraud and “O negative” – involving an alleged blood plasma protection racket).
A number of the defendants in Marquês are also defendants in other cases: Ricardo Salgado, for example, has been made an ‘arguido’ (official suspect) in Marquês, Monte Branco and BES, while luso-Angolan businessman Hélder Bataglia has been back in Portugal this week talking to investigators and is now an arguido in both Monte Branco and Marquês.
Former Octapharma businessman Paulo Lalanda de Castro is also an arguido in Marquês, Labyrinth and O-negative, while former Socialist MP Armando Vara is cited in Marquês and another high profile case which now sees him fighting to stay out of jail: Operation Hidden Face (Face Oculta).