Disquiet as Portuguese Attorney General demands ‘heads up’ over investigations into politicians

It’s an issue that has been described as “opening an authentic war within the Public Ministry”: Lucília Gago, the Portuguese Attorney General has issued a directive demanding that ‘high-profile investigations’ should be ‘communicated to the hierarchy’ (meaning to her office).

Explain reports, the wording suggests the requirement covers any investigations into politicians and material related to the management of the public sector.

The directive centres on prosecutors informing their superiors on what ‘diligences’ they are planning so that the superiors can then decide on whether there should be ‘any changes in strategy’.

These ‘changes in strategy’ cover the consigning of such investigations into ‘secret cases’.

Says Correio da Manhã, this is “not very different to what happened in Face Oculta (a massive corruption investigation that dragged on for years and has still seen very few key players punished). 

In Face Oculta, recordings of phone conversations between the then prime minister José Sócrates and former minister and defendant Armando Vara – who was finally jailed over the case – were removed from the investigation and eventually destroyed because the then Attorney General Pinto Monteiro did not consider their content had criminal relevance.

Lucília Gago’s new directive comes in the context of the bizarre Tancos investigation (involving the ‘theft’ and subsequent reappearance of obsolete munitions from an army storage facility click here).

Magistrates were prohibited (by their superiors, in this case the director of DCIAP) from hearing prime minister António Costa or President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on their understanding of what had happened, on the basis that they ‘could not be disturbed’.

Says CM, this went down like a lead balloon among prosecutors who did in fact get their chance to hear both men during different phases of the case. President Marcelo’s testimony particularly being “very important”.

Thus the concerns that directives like the one appearing now threaten what one source described as “the politicization of Justice” (meaning the dismantling of the sacred ‘separation of powers’.

According to CM, prosecutors aren’t leaving the situation without a fight. They have requested an audience with President Marcelo and with parliamentary groups.

“They say (Lucília Gago’s) order is illegal and question whether she should continue in her position”.

Elaborating on the controversy, Observador recalls that it first started bubbling up in February, but became ‘overshadowed’ by the pandemic. “It is now back in force”, says the online, pointing out that the directive isn’t only relevant because of Tancos. It would mean “for example, that those leading investigations into the hydrogen case (click here) would have to first inform the hierarchy if they wanted to set up phone taps on members of the government of António Costa”.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com