It’s a new twist in the nine-month controversy that has seen a former prime minister of Portugal behind bars without any formal charges. Rui Rangel – the high-profile judge who has frequently questioned the justice behind José Sócrates’ continued imprisonment in Évora jail – is due to decide on the former Socialist leader’s latest appeal.
Portuguese newspapers have been suggesting that nine months on, the public prosecutor’s argument that release from jail could “perturb the course of the inquiry” may be starting to wear thin.
House arrest – with or without an electronic bracelet – is expected as soon as September 9.
But is it wise that this next step in the long-running corruption case dubbed Operation Marquês should now be decided by a judge whose opinions on the case have been widely repeated?
National tabloid Correio da Manhã suggests it is not.
Former PJ inspector and regular contributor Carlos Anjos claims Rangel is the very last judge who should be considering Sócrates’ latest appeal.
“To safeguard not only the judge but the interests of justice no judge who has talked about the case should be able to decide appeals,” he writes today.
University professors agree, saying Rangel should ask to be excused.
Due to consider Sócrates’ latest appeal in Lisbon’s 9th section on September 9, Rangel is expected to sit alongside colleague Francisco Caramelo.
If the two judges fail to reach a mutual decision, CM says the final word will lie with the judge in charge of their section, Trigo Mesquita.
Curiously, Rangel has in the past excused himself from decisions in corruption trials.
He stepped down from the bench hearing the appeal of Armando Vara in the Face Oculta corruption case.
His reason then was that he came from Vara’s hometown of Vinhais, and that any decision “could create doubts over his impartiality”.
Vara, ironically, is among the list of defendants in Operation Marquês, and is currently appealing against his terms of house arrest on an electronic bracelet.
Elsewhere, Rangel asked to be excused from the “Apito Dourado” football scandal trial because he said he had a connection to the former mayor involved Valentim Loureiro.
A frequent TV guest, Rangel has discussed Operation Marquês on stations RTP and TVI.
As Carlos Anjos affirms: “Even though Rangel always says he rarely talks about concrete cases, the times that he has have not been few”.
Stories surrounding Sócrates’ possible release from jail are expected to pepper the press in the run-up to September 9, particularly as the timing is expected to do little for either of the country’s main political parties going all out to win a majority in the upcoming October elections.