Operation Influencer: suspects continue in police detention

Law firm suspends members involved in probe; Start Campus CEO to resign

Saturday sees the questioning of suspects in the corruption probe that has toppled Portugal’s absolute majority Socialist government continue to be questioned at Lisbon central criminal court at Campus de Justiça.

According to reports, today’s energies will be directed at continuing the questioning of Afonso Salema, who as CEO of Start Campus is under suspicion of the trafficking of influences, active corruption, prevarication, and offering undue advantage.

Mr Salema has reportedly also said that he will renounce his post once bail measures have been decided.

These are very unlikely to come quickly. There is still António Costa’s now dismissed chief of staff Vítor Escária to question, as well as the sitting PM’s ‘best friend’ Diogo Lacerda Machada.

Escária is said to be facing suspicions of the trafficking of influences and prevarication – and there is still the question of the origin of the now almost €78,000 discovered in cash in his office in São Bento (the prime minister’s official residence). The sum originally given in the media was €75,800.

Lacerda Machado is facing the same suspicions plus that of having committed active corruption.

Questioning today may progress to the point that Vítor Escária starts being heard, but his questioning is unlikely to finish today – and Sunday has been ‘blocked off’ for the purposes of giving investigators a ‘break’.

If questioning has to continue into next week, all five suspects will then hear their bail terms.

Meantime, the two lawyers under suspicion – João Tiago Silveira and Rui Oliveira Neves (this latter also a director of Start Campus) – have been suspended, at their own requests, by the law firm for which they work, Morais Leitão.

Rui Oliveira Neves is suspected of the trafficking of influences, active corruption, prevarication and the offer of undue advantage; the suspicions against João Tiago Silveira, a former PS Socialist spokesman and secretary of State during the infamous Sócrates’ government, have not been fully spelt out.

Newspapers today are full of excerpts of alleged telephone conversations, recorded by authorities without the knowledge of those involved in them, and showing the alleged intrigue and machinations at work to ‘clinch’ lucrative deals billed as being of immense public importance/ interest.

The lawyer representing António Costa has said in his professional opinion, this case is one that is setting out to ‘criminalise’ the ‘political-administrative process’. In other words, ‘there is nothing to see here’.

Equally, one of the most high-profile suspects, minister for infrastructure João Galamba, has said he has no intention of offering his resignation – even though he is under suspicion of prevarication, corruption, the trafficking of influences, theft and abuse of power. In the recent past, being cited as an official suspect in any criminal investigation has been enough to see other ‘holders of public office’ throw in the towel, if even grudgingly. It is seen as ‘the honourable thing to do’. The sitting prime minister, for example, resigned his position for a great deal less: Mr Costa has not been cited as an official suspect in this matter, or any other.

Columnists therefore are having a field day today in ‘demanding’ Mr Galamba’s resignation. Carlos Rodrigues, director general of tabloid Correio da Manhã, goes a little further. In light of what he calls the “sad spectacle” of Mr Galamba defending his position in government yesterday, Rodrigues questions: “What connects the prime minister to this insensitive, immature politician who is now suspected of behaviour, in the very least, unethical? What traps the destinies of Costa and Galamba? Should the Portuguese people have to be dragged through this disgrace? We have come to learn, during this frenetic week, that António Costa is a statesman in many respects, but he is also a disaster in choosing those that surround him, as we came to learn with the Secretary of State with imaginary buildings in Caminha, with a politician with frozen bank accounts and the former director with a €500,000 indemnity. Costa has to get rid of Galamba, or the next few months will be very tough for the (Socialist) regime”, which will be, after all, hoping to win the looming elections.

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