Lithium/ hydrogen arrests: jailed five to appear before judge

Judge of criminal instruction will rule on bail measures

Four of the five men arrested yesterday as part of ‘bombshell investigations’ related to the exploration of lithium and green hydrogen in Portugal spent the night in police cells in Moscavide, Lisbon. The mayor of Sines, Nuno Mascarenhas, was held in police cells closer to his home, reports SIC Notícias this morning.

The fall-out of yesterday’s arrests, and perceived ‘fall of the government’ following the prime minister’s resignation, will continue throughout the day/ week as it is now clear that this case centres very much on questions that were raised years ago by investigative journalists’ whose programme was shut down after one of the ‘official suspects in this case’ (the minister of infrastructure João Galamba) described it disparagingly as ‘manure’.

In other words, the whiff of institutional malpractice has been redolent for a long period.

Commentators on air actually referred to yesterday’s searches having been ‘brought forward’ following the words of the president of the Supreme Tribunal of Justice on ‘corruption installed in Portugal’, and political power having “no interest” in tackling it.

The understanding is that these comments may have given those now under suspicion a ‘heads up’ that something might have been coming down the line.

The very reasoning for holding the five in preventive custody has been given “the danger of flight, continuation of criminal activity and the disturbance of the inquiry and public order”, explains SIC today.

Whatever the motives for ‘surprising’ the prime minister and the rest of the country yesterday, those behind bars this morning will be presented before a judge of criminal instruction over the course of the day, and possibly some tomorrow, before bail measures are decided.

A statement issued by the Attorney General’s Office on what has caused “a political earthquake” nationally describes the investigation as one related:

  • to the Romano and Barroso lithium mines, in Montalegre and Boticas. These are the projects of Lusorecursos Portugal Lithium (a company created only three days before clinching the deal with the government, and reportedly involving directors with dubious pasts), and Savannah Resources, a company that has had to fight tooth and nail to get the permissions it wants, against a welter of allegations on how the project has been handled.
  • to a project for a centre for producing green hydrogen in Sines, presented by a consortium that has put itself forwards for IPCEI  “Important Projects of Common European Interest” funding
  • to a project for a data centre by Portuguese ‘start up’ Start Campus, to be constructed at Sines Industrial and Logistics park.

Meantime, stories in the press having been going into the ‘details’ of this explosive investigation that has identified the prime minister’s official residence being used for meetings in which favours were sought and granted.

Tabloid Correio da Manhã explains: “The official residence of António Costa in São Bento was used for secret meetings, for trafficking influences between private individuals and the holders of public office. Who says this is the Public Prosecutor, who reveals there were various meetings between António Costa’s best friend, Diogo Lacerda Machado, and Afonso Salema, CEO of Start Campus, with Vítor Escária, the prime minister’s chief of staff, in that building, where he also had his office.

“The objective was to deliver Start Campus what was considered a project of national interest – in the words of António Costa himself, it represented the largest foreign investment in our country since Autoeuropa – that would benefit from enormous amounts of public funding.

“What no one was aware is that the choice of Lacerda Machado for Start Campus was due solely for the fact that he was a friend of António Costa and Vítor Escária. That’s how he was able to put pressure on ministers, local authority officials and other public bodies in order to get the projects of the company he represented speedily approved.

“The Public Prosecutor also says that beyond the meetings in São Bento, there were meetings at the PS headquarters in Largo do Rato, and in the offices of the company in the Amoreiras shopping centre.

“Other participants in these meetings were João Galamba, at the time secretary of state for energy, now minister for infrastructure, and Duarte Cordeiro, the current minister for the environment, as well as Nuno Lacasta, president of APA” (all three men are now official suspects in this investigation).

CM continues that “in exchange for undue advantages” Nuno Mascarenhas, mayor of Sines, “promised to speed up or even give a favourable opinion on Start Campus’ urban planning pretentions. Contacts were made with Diogo Lacerda Machado, who played a key role here, given his proximity to the Prime Minister”… A real ‘scandal’ in other words – if everything can be proved – but not ultimately that surprising: “Endemic Sins” being the title of a column written in the same paper today, by deputy editorial director Armando Esteves Pereira, who considers that “in this country where large fortunes are achieved in the shadow of the State (..) string-pulling and the trafficking of influences are endemic sins.

“The corruption of power is not new, nor was it invented in our democracy. It comes from way back (…) What is new is the action of Justice which may be slow but once it starts, it is difficult to stop”, he says.

“A few decades ago it would be unthinkable that the chief of staff of a prime minister could be arrested, and that a communiqué from the Attorney General’s Office could bring down a head of government with an absolute majority”.

And this is what is really behind the words ‘political earthquake’: it is not just the details of what may or may not have happened, but the fact that it was ABLE to happen at all, in a country where favours and impunity (depending on who one knows) have in the past protected so many.

For now, commentators agree that the most important thing is to see Justice act ‘quickly’, particularly with regard to the separate investigation into the actions of the prime minister “as he has the right, as much as anyone, to his good name“.

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