António Costa
António Costa is understood to be anxious to clear his name of any suspicion in order to run for a top job in Brussels: Image: José Sena Goulão/ Lusa

Portugal’s PM “suspected of crime of prevarication”

António Costa under investigation for ‘very naughty made-to-measure’ law clearing hurdles for data centre

Bit by bit, as the country limbers up for what is certain to be an unseemly election battle, details are ‘leaking’ over the criminal investigation that brought down the government. The PM, although he resigned, did so more, he said, because of the ‘shame’ of betrayal by those close to him (particularly the chief of staff found hoarding over €75,000 in undeclared money in an office in the PM’s official residence). Now, it appears, that the autonomous investigation being undertaken by the Supreme Court may have more to it than a shameful association.

According to Observador, and now widely repeated in the media, Costa is considered by the Public Prosecution’s Office to be a suspect in the alleged practice of the crime of prevarication.

At issue is the approval of the new juridical regime on urbanisation and construction (passed by the Council of Ministers in October last year).

Part of the government’s ‘Mais Habitação’ law, this regime was all about ‘simplifying the licensing of urbanisations, territorial planning and industry’.

If anyone remembers the rather uncomfortable 2nd ‘speech’ the PM gave to the nation after his resignation – the one where he talked about how politicians got things done – he did make much at the time about the beauty of simplification. “Simplification creates transparency; bureaucracy harbours opacity”.

Fast forward two months, and Observador claims public prosecutors listening in to conversations were able to establish that the directors of Start Campus – promoting the plan for a data centre in Sines – were minutely involved in negotiating the terms of the regime (with people in government, particularly infrastructures minister João Galamba) which essentially meant the centre would be able to circumvent licensing hurdles.

One of the conversations to which Observador appears to have had access was between João Tiago Silveira (in charge of the government’s environmental and industrial Simplex legislation, also known as ‘licensing Simplex’) and Start Campus director Rui Oliveira Neves, who allegedly said he had been discussing the regime with “Costa for four hours” a couple of days previously, and the “bloke” was “absolutely enthusiastic”.

Costa’s enthusiasm was due to the “tailor-made” law which Oliveira Neves dubbed “very naughty”, but the path to follow.

This law, or juridical regime (known by the initials RJUE), was worded to ensure that ‘data centres’ were included in the list of projects for which licensing procedures were vastly simplified, “to help businesses”.

Observador stresses that the “character referred to as ‘Costa’ in the phone conversation was the resigning Prime Minister António Costa” (in case anyone wonders whether it could be economy minister António Costa Silva, as past inferences have suggested).

The online adds that since the government’s ‘fall’, a revised version of the RJUE was promulgated by President Marcelo (yesterday), without the incriminating paragraph that Influencer’s main players were allegedly negotiating

The new version “significantly reduces the most controversial issues of the law, which are now limited to simplifications with direct repercussions on the promotion of more housing”, says the text, adding that for the purposes of Operation Influencer, this is irrelevant. Prosecutors have built their case, and if changes to RJUE were brought in ‘after the fact’, it doesn’t alter what was allegedly being concocted.

Observador adds that it has approached the president’s office, with “various questions related to the promulgation of the diploma, but could not get any clarifying explanations”. Journalists “also questioned António Costa about whether the President of the Republic had negotiated the removal of the paragraph under suspicion, but the Prime Minister declined to answer”. ND

Source material: Observador/ SIC Notícias