Communist mayor André Martins has resorted to silence

Pro-Putin immigrant association ‘scandal’ poised to bring down Setúbal town council

“Mayor hasn’t explained a thing”

The future of CDU (communist)-led Setúbal town council appears increasingly uncertain just a week since Expresso revealed it was financing an association purportedly supporting Ukrainian refugees that was run by a Russian dual-national with close links to the Kremlin.

Every day since has seen another damning detail bob to the surface.

Today, Expresso has followed up on last week’s exclusive to explain that Igor Khashin – president of the Edinstvo immigrants association which has been benefiting from municipal support for the last 17 years – is “not just pro-Putin. He has been recognised by the Kremlin as a defender of the regime”. 

According to the paper, the 47-year-old has represented Portugal in Moscow at a world congress of Russian compatriots, where he signed a declaration agreeing with the annexation of Crimea.

The declaration also considered Ukraine’s Maidan revolution to be a “coup d’etat”.

Khashin’s positions could not be further south from those of the refugees he helped receive in Setúbal”, says the paper.

Secret services have been monitoring Khashin since 2014 (the year Russia annexed Crimea) – and thus Setúbal town council’s continued financial support beyond that date is looking less and less ‘acceptable’.

As television commentator Luís Marques Mendes said recently, Setúbal could conceivably have been forgiven for funding a pro-Russian entity up till February 24 this year, but since the invasion of Ukraine, there is no excuse

For the time being, Communist Mayor André Martins has ‘refused to discuss the matter’, preferring to await the outcome of various inquiries ongoing.

He may have ‘gotten away with it’, in as much as calls for him to be quizzed in parliament have been voted against by the majority PS today (in spite of them coming from five minority parties, including the communists).

But back in Setúbal, the situation is fraught. It will just take one party to call for Mr Martins’ dismissal, for others to follow.

Socialist councillor and MP in parliament Fernando José has suggested it is really up to the mayor to decide whether he himself believes he has “the conditions to continue”.

This crisis has “generated a snowballing of political reactions”, says Expresso, which culminated yesterday in the PSD “calling on the commission for Rights, Liberties and Guarantees to hear those responsible for Portuguese espionage and internal security.

“The social democrats wants to call ambassador Graça Mira Gomes, secretary general of SIRP – the organism that coordinates internal and external espionage services – and ambassador Paulo Vizeu Pinheiro (who has already worked in Moscow), secretary general of SSI (homeland security).

“António Costa, who oversees information, said twice this week that intelligence services were attentive to the case of the Ukrainians (in Setúbal), but he did not explain further”.

In the meantime, further refugees have come forwards from Setúbal with similar stories to those highlighted by Expresso last week, attesting to the photocopying of personal documents – something SEF and other sources have insisted is not required in processing refugees.

The national commission for data protection is just one of the official bodies which is now trying to get to the bottom of what exactly was going on, and whether refugees’ personal details have been compromised.

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