Tiago Henrique Marques/ Lusa

Setúbal’s ‘Russiagate’ refugee support probe

PJ apprehends“diverse documentation” from refugee support office

The ongoing controversy about allegedly pro-Putin Russians being financed by Setúbal’s communist-led council; receiving Ukrainian refugees and asking unnecessarily probing questions has seen PJ police apprehend “diverse documentation” today.

Searches took place at both the offices of the council’s refugee support facility (LIMAR), and the ‘Association of Emigrés of the East’ (Edinstvo), headed up by Igor Khashin, a Russian with close links to the Kremlin and under investigation by Portugal’s security services since 2014.

At the same time, the parliamentary commission on Constitutional Matters, Rights, Liberties and Guarantees began hearing various parties impacted by this scandal – starting with the Association of Ukrainian Refugees in Portugal, which explained (yet again) that it has been trying to raise the issue of pro-Putin organisations working in plain sight in Portugal for the last eight years (indeed, since the annexation of Crimea).

As MPs raised a number of issues, and questioned the High Commission of Migrations on its knowledge of the situation, police were effecting computer searches “on data related with the crimes under investigation”.

These crimes relate to “data use in a way that is incompatible with the purpose of collecting, undue access and data misuse” under the terms of the Personal Data Protection Law.

As a note on the Public Ministry website explains, the investigation is under secrecy of justice.

Talking earlier today, Portugal’s minister for parliamentary affairs Ana Catarina Mendes said this controversy will be investigated to “its ultimate consequences” to establish whether there has been “negligent or intolerable treatment by the municipality.

“This government will not allow the law to be violated and, much less, that those who arrive here are not treated with dignity and respect,” assured the minister, who is one of the most senior members of the Socialist executive.

The most curious aspect of reports so far has been the complete lack of contact with the two Russian citizens supposedly involved, Igor Khashin and his wife Yulia, who began working for Setúbal municipality last year.

It is not even clear whether the couple remain in Portugal.

A source for the council has said meantime that it will “give all support necessary to the judicial diligencies” underway.

This controversy broke a couple of weeks ago when Expresso carried an exclusive of Ukrainians ‘frightened’ by the fact that they were being received by Russians in Setúbal, and asked questions on where their husbands were, and what they were doing in Ukraine.

It has since become clear that the town council has been supporting the Edinstvo association for almost a decade, possibly longer.

Adding to the complications, Lisbon communist councillor João Ferreira has come out and suggested incoming refugees “are not all of the same origins or convictions”.

He has criticised the PSD-coalition running the council for approving a protocol in which it works with the Association of Ukrainians in Portugal in welcoming refugees. 

And to round off the day’s soundbites, the Russian embassy in Lisbon has said the Edinstvo association is a victim of ‘Russiaphobia’.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com