Prime minister’s official residence among those being searched
Tuesday has broken with news that the homes of various government ministers, present and past, are being searched over suspicions of irregularities in the contracting of lithium and hydrogen exploration.
Among those affected are minister of infrastructures João Galamba, former environment/ energetic transition minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes, Duarte Cordeiro, current minister of the environment/energetic transition, prime minister António Costa’s ‘chief of staff’ Vítor Escaria (a former advisor of since ‘disgraced’ former PS secretary-general, José Sócrates), and Nuno Mascarenhas, the mayor of Sines.
It has also been reported that the prime minister’s ‘best friend’, businessman Diogo Lacerda Machado has been arrested, along with two other company executives.
With news still very ‘hot’ and in a sense unclear (see updates below), pundits have stressed that whatever happens next these events “will have consequences for the composition of government” – an administration that has been underfire from multiple quarters for some time now, and which saw huge demonstrations even last weekend over measures citizens profoundly reject.
As SIC’s politics editor Cristina Figueiredo has been saying on air, “this issue has always raised a lot of controversy”.
The whiff of corruption within this Socialist government’s approach to lithium exploration goes back years – with João Galamba (then secretary of state for energy) and João Pedro Matos Fernandes among politicians under scrutiny.
Investigation programme Sexta às 9 ran a series of ‘exposés’ on suspected irregularities (particularly focused on Montalegre, which is believed to be at the root of current investigations) before being closed down, again in circumstances far from transparent.
This morning, the prime minister cancelled his early agenda for a meeting with President Marcelo to discuss what is happening – and possibly more importantly, what should happen next.
Meantime, news is coming through all the time on the arrests. The two business executives have been named by SIC as Rui Oliveira Neves and Afonso Salema. They are involved in Start Ups related to the green hydrogen project planned for Sines (the mayor of which has also been arrested, see above).
The meeting with President Marcelo has also ‘ended’, having taken 35 minutes, says SIC. It is understood that shortly afterwards the president had a meeting with Attorney General Lucília Gago.
News on this latest furore in an administration that has been larded by ‘cases’, ‘little cases’ and allegations of corruption, will be coming throughout the day.
As reports stress, the ‘fervour’ for lithium exploration began in 2016, and has seen the government insist that the ‘public interest’ in ‘satisfying global demand’ for electric car batteries,and the whole ‘energy transition’, should override any reservations that local communities may have on the sustainability of citizens’ day-to-day lives and livelihoods. This has led local communities, backed by their councils – and in many cases environmental groups – threaten to “go to the ultimate consequences” to stop plans that they fear will destroy the environment for future generations.
With every media channel following this morning’s events, CMTV commentator Camilo Lourenço has said today’s bombshell is “a global scandal“, while SIC’s Bernardo Ferrão has said “we are witnessing something unprecedented“.
Absolutely essential, says Ferrão, is a clarification from the prime minister on what is going on.
Rui Rocha, leader of Iniciativa Liberal, is calling for António Costa to step down: “We cannot have a country involved in rottenness, in corruption, in nepotism and incompetence in the way that things have been happening”.
Overseas media is picking up this news, stressing: “Costa’s latest government has been affected by a steady stream of scandals, and in less than two years more than a dozen members of his executive have resigned for a variety of reasons.
“Although Portugal’s president has openly criticized Costa’s scandal-ridden government, he has refused to dissolve parliament and call new elections, arguing the move would be disruptive at a moment when the country is attempting to distribute the EU’s recovery funds”.
Here, Público is already suggesting João Galamba, Duarte Cordeiro and João Pedro Matos Fernandes will be indicted shortly as official suspects. This has since happened in the case of João Galamba.
Político’s piece today stresses that: “Costa’s Socialist government has enthusiastically backed numerous schemes to extract lithium in different areas of Portugal as part of the EU’s wider drive to secure critical raw materials, but those projects have been mired in controversy because of the low quality of the elements set to be extracted and the disproportionate environmental damage expected from the operations”.
According to SIC, searches have taken place in 40 locations. But perhaps the second ‘biggest news’ of the day is that prime minister António Costa is being investigated in a separate investigation on suspicion of having “faciliated business deals”…
As for the REASONS FOR TODAY’S ARRESTS, SIC Notícias cites suspicions of the crimes of prevarication, active and passive corruption and trafficking of influences.
Also cited has been Nuno Lancasta, the president of the board (concelho diretivo) of APA, the Portuguese Environment Agency.
SIC explains that “the name of prime minister António Costa appeared in reference to other investigations, for example, unblocking proceedings with regard to lithium mines in Montalegre and Boticas, and for this reason he will be investigated in an autonomous process by the Supreme Tribunal of Justice”.