António Costa is getting flak over TAP from all quarters in the election campaign

PM Costa in piping-hot water for “not telling truth” in debate watched by 3.3 million

Portugal’s prime minister António Costa is in piping hot water today for having bent the truth to make a point in the acrimonious pre-election campaign televised debate with his adversary, PSD leader Rui Rio, watched by 3.3 million households.

In the heated exchange over the government’s funding of TAP, Mr Costa said that the government had opted to purchase the airline “precisely to prevent the private individual there (David Neeleman, former TAP shareholder), who could not be trusted, from destroying TAP on the day it went bankrupt. In 2020, Mr Neeleman’s companies went down all over the world”.

The trouble with that statement is that it really was not correct. Certainly not in the eyes of Mr Neeleman, who is now demanding a public apology.

In a note sent to Lusa news agency, Mr Neeleman explains: “Contrary to what Dr António Costa said in the debate, all the airline companies I have founded were and continue to be projects of great success with considerable value for their stakeholders, having demonstrated enough sustainability and resilience to survive the current scenario of crisis”.

Mr Costa “failed the truth”, considers the dual Brazilian/ American – and in failing the truth, he affected Mr Neeleman’s “name and reputation”.

Those two words could be very pertinent. In Portugal, comments that affect names and reputations can be criminalised. Defamation can cost those responsible dearly, particularly in an election campaign when truth and integrity are seen as extremely important.

For now, Mr Neeleman is playing it very calmly. “It is with surprise that I note that Dr António Costa understands that I am not to be trusted. This comes when after the start of the pandemic, Dr António Costa recognised on April 30 2020 in interview with RTP that TAP had, up to the pandemic, been executing a strategic plan approved by the State…”

Taking the opportunity to wish “all happiness to TAP and its exceptional employees”, Mr Neeleman concluded that “Dr António Costa failed the truth and with his declarations affected my name and reputation, for which I await an apology”.

Mr Costa’s main adversary in these elections, Rui Rio, has made no secret of the fact that a new government led by himself would privatize TAP “as soon as practically possible”.

The government meantime is ploughing another 2.55 billion euros into the airline, and has not assured critics that this sum will be the last that goes into saving a company that doesn’t even serve all the country’s airports (click here).

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