Minister refuses to budge after husband’s company receives EU funding
António Trigueiros de Aragão, husband of Portugal's minister for territorial cohesion

Minister refuses to budge after husband’s company receives EU funding

One of company’s shareholders is Chinese condemned for corruption

The storm over EU funds received by a company involving the husband of the minister for Territorial Cohesion has continued building, even after the ‘damage limitation’ attempts by prime minister António Costa.

Yesterday, Expresso revealed that one of the shareholders of the business at the centre of this latest row is Chinese businessman Zhu Xiaodong, condemned for ‘active fraud’ in the ‘Golden Visas’ case after having already spent some time in preventive custody.

According to António Trigueiros de Aragão, the husband of minister for territorial cohesion Ana Abrunhosa (and a hereditary duke) this is very small potatoes.

Indeed, both Expresso and SIC noticias describe Zhu Xiaodong’s holding of the business in question as “just 20%”.

In other situations – like for example Russia’s takeover of Ukrainian territory – 20% is billed as a significant slice. But in this case, it is not seen as quite so relevant.

The company in question is Thermalvet – set up two weeks before applying for European funding back in 2020.

According to reports, Thermalvet is owned 80% by António Trigueiros de Aragão, and his father, with the remainder held by Zhu Xiaodong, who ended up receiving a suspended jail sentence of three years and five months for his part in the Golden Visa corruption scandal.

As Observador recalls, Xiaodong was found guilty of bribing the then president of the notaries institute. But, according to António Trigueiros de Aragão, that is not an issue to affect a friendship, a business partnership, or even a bid for European funding.

The problem is that not everyone sees things quite so generously.

Opposition parties CHEGA and IL (Iniciativa Liberal) have called for the dismissal of Ana Abrunhosa, the inference being that cronyism is at play.

PM Costa has sought to quell such insinuations, stressing that as soon as his minister became aware that there was a possible conflict of interest, she sought the advice of the Attorney General’s Office, which considered that there was no illegality in her husband bidding for European funds, albeit there was an “obscurity” in the law that legislators should “carefully ponder”.

Bottom line, Ms Abrunhosa – and the government of which she is part – can see no incompatibility – and therefore no reason for dismissal or resignation.

Yet, the addition into the mix of a convicted Chinese fraudster hasn’t really helped.

Reports yesterday were citing the independent online news provider Página Um, which adds that António Trigueiros de Aragão “is associated with other Chinese businessmen who have also received community funds from his wife’s ministry”.

Will this inconvenient story gain traction, or will it simply run itself into a quiet corner? President Marcelo is still ‘out of town’ and has answered questions obliquely, saying “circumstances need to be ascertained in cases involving family members”.

natasha.donn@portugalresident.com