Investigation highlights “smell of corruption in rights attributed to lithium exploration”

The ongoing controversy over a hastily-awarded government licence to mine lithium in the borough of Montalegre just got a whole lot murkier.

In addition to the court battle ongoing between two former partners (click here), a team of investigative journalists has revealed a situation that ‘smells of corruption’: a licence awarded to a firm that claimed to have over a million euros in capital when in fact it had little more than €50,000 – and no track record.

The Sexta às 9 (RTP) reporting team has essentially discovered a situation reminiscent of one that took place during the battle in the Algarve to stop oil drilling.

In that instance, a government contract awarded to Portfuel – a company again with no track record, as well as no employees – was finally ‘thrown out’ after a relentless civic campaign.

In this new case, it’s not yet clear what will happen – other than the fact that the licence is yet another that appears to have been awarded in less than transparent circumstances.

Mário Guedes, a former heavy-hitter in the general directorate of energy, told Sexta às 9 that he finds it “incomprehensible” that the government could have awarded a licence that would have such an effect on local populations without commissioning an environmental impact study beforehand.

In the hot seat is the secretary of state for energy João Galamba who authorised the licence, which according to tabloid Correio da Manhã “could generate an income of 380 million euros in 20 years”.

Explain reports, the Public Ministry is now investigating.

But this isn’t the only controversy highlighted by journalistic programmes, suspended from reporting during the run up to recent legislative elections.

There are allegations of suspicious business dealings between the new minister of Agriculture (Maria do Ceu Albuquerque) and a company headed by the father and sister of a Socialist secretary of state; and talk of ‘favoritism’ in the awarding of contracts to construction company Mota-Engil.

João Galamba is again one of the names under scrutiny – as well as environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes.

With President Marcelo due to swear António Costa’s remodelled government in for new a four-year term, leader writers are querying whether he can, in all confidence, ‘really give these people power’…

Members of the citizens group fighting lithium exploration in Montalegre are saying much the same.

“What is going on?” Queries one. “Is this nation the Congo by any chance..?”

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