By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]
Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates is to sue any organisation or person that has implicated his name in the Freeport scandal.
His intention came in a statement issued on Friday afternoon following a number of stories published in Portuguese national newspapers, and a lead report on television news station TVI 24 in which extracts were played of a DVD recording purported as proof of the Prime Minister’s involvement in 2002 when he was Environment Minister.
The latest allegations centre around supposed statements made to British police by British consultant Charles Smith, a resident of the Algarve, who last week defended the authenticity of the DVD recording between himself, a former Freeport Plc director and former Smith & Pedro company employee João Cabral.
The British Serious Fraud Squad, the Portuguese Police Polícia Judiciária and examining court magistrates, under the direction of the Portuguese Prosecutor-General Fernando Pinto Monteiro, are investigating an alleged multi-million euro bribery and corruption scam over the planning permission of Europe’s largest factory retail outlet at Alcochete, near Lisbon.
A further potential bombshell for the Prime Minister threatened to explode as it emerged on Monday that Ministério Público magistrates were to appeal directly to President Cavaco Silva after claims they were being threatened and pressurised to drop any “inconvenient findings” they might uncover in the course of their investigations.
On Wednesday morning it emerged that the Director-General of Eurojust (Portugal), a European Union legal and conciliation body, José Luís Lopes da Mota, who is the legal link between the British and Portuguese legal investigations, had been accused of “pressurising and threatening examining magistrates” in the Freeport Case, an allegation he strongly denies.
The Procurator of the Republic, Fernando Pinto Monteiro, was to call a meeting on Wednesday with José Luís Lopes da Mota to determine if there had in fact been pressure brought to bear on the magistrates.
In the DVD recording shown on television, it is alleged that businessman Charles Smith, of the former consultants Smith & Pedro, said he had “paid money (in exchange) for the outlet’s planning permission at the request of José Sócrates”, the then Minister for the Environment during the socialist PS António Guterres government.
The DVD recording had been made secretly, in the United Kingdom, by a former Freeport Plc director.
In Friday night’s statement from the Prime Minister’s office, José Sócrates, for the second time this year, totally repudiated all the allegations of his involvement in the planning permission bribe.
He stated that the allegations were “false, made-up and injurious.” Once again José Sócrates affirms that he “doesn’t know” Charles Smith “or any of the developers or promoters of the Freeport development.”
“It has come to my knowledge that TVI has reported a recording containing references of my name on the subject of the Freeport Case. I would like to make clear the following: These claims are completely false, made up and harmful to myself,” states the Prime Minister.
Following the TVI report and repudiation by the Prime Minister, the leader of the opposition centre-right PSD party, Manuela Ferreira Leite, called for the matter to be “cleared up for the sake of the judicial system and democracy” in Portugal.
She added that a “succession of facts” related to the Freeport Case required “rapid clarification.”
In reaction to the TVI broadcast of the alleged DVD recorded conversation, Charles Smith denied any defamatory references.
“It is false to say that I have ever referred to the Prime Minister as “corrupt” or in an injurious manner, or any other politician for that matter, or that I had offered or promised compensation or advantage in exchange for planning permission for Freeport,” he said in a statement.
The former consultancy partner, who admits the authenticity of the DVD, admits having taken part in “many meetings” over a “number of years” with former Freeport director Alan Parkins and João Cabral to discuss “issues surrounding the development”.
The property developer and promoter, who is a suspect or arguido in the case, has stated that he will use “all legal means” at his disposal to “unmask” what he called “persecution” and will “demand satisfaction from those responsible.”
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