Portuguese Attorney General’s bid to ‘muzzle’ high-profile cases to be challenged through courts

The ‘all-out war’ that has been raging since Attorney General Lucília Gago issued a directive allowing ‘high profile’ cases to be effectively muzzled from ‘the superior hierarchy’ has entered new ground this week.

Say reports, public prosecutors outraged by what they see as ‘the politicisation of Justice’, have decided to challenge the directive through the courts.

The decision was taken last Saturday during an assembly of the SMMP, the syndicate of magistrates of the public ministry. 

The syndicate also agreed to support all costs of the actions to be taken.

This is an issue that started bubbling away almost a year ago (click here). Prosecutors must have hoped that the strength of feeling against Lucília Gago’s directive would see it dropped. But no. Nothing has changed – despite audiences with President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa and parliamentary groups.

Lucília Gago’s appointment – after an Attorney General who did so much to expose corruption embedded within the system – has always been criticised for having been ‘political’.

Her predecessor Joana Marques Vidal has already said that Ms Gago’s directive “goes beyond what the law permits for hierarchical intervention”.

Thus in legal terms, public prosecutors would seem to have a ‘strong case’.

As reports have explained at length in the recent past, this directive appears to have been adopted to ‘ease politicians’ paths’ in cases like Tancos (the ‘mystery’ of missing ammunition from an army store).

In the Tancos ‘investigation’ lines of inquiry involving prime minister António Costa and President of the Republic Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa were ‘blocked’.

As prosecutors have stressed, directive 04/2020 basically throws Portugal back to ‘the dark days of opacity’ in which so many high-profile cases were skewered from on high (click here).

Giving her brief opinion on the directive last month, Ms Gago’s predecessor was equally critical of the ‘National Strategy Against Corruption’ proposed by Justice Minister Francisca Van Dunem, which now has to be approved by the Council of Ministers and then be submitted to parliament for debate.

Talking at a conference at the Catholic University in Lisbon, Ms Vidal said that one of the measures of the ‘strategy’ also set out to limit prosecutors’ investigative powers. It was presented as a way of ‘reducing the number of mega-cases’ which have caused the justice system so much work – but it essentially ‘reinforces hierarchical powers’ in a way that “could prevent the discovery of the material truth of a global investigation that may cover several related investigations”.

[email protected]