Following possibly the longest period of detention-without-charge of a former prime minister of a democratic country, José Sócrates was finally released from Évora jail last night to house-arrest in Lisbon, with a police guard.
Looking tanned and smiling, with an uncharacteristic dusting of designer stubble, Sócrates arrived in Rua Abade Faria at 9pm, declining to answer any questions from gathered journalists.
The few locals who had come out to see what the commotion was about applauded as he stepped out of a blue van, and one of the police stationed at the door of his new home saluted – but it was a far cry from the jubilant exit from jail on supporters’ shoulders which Portuguese media claimed Sócrates had been hoping for.
As Sócrates’ lawyer João Araújo declares he will be appealing the order for house arrest, national media explains the long drawn out Operation Marquês investigation into Sócrates alleged millionaire corruption is now close to an end.
A statement released by the Attorney General’s office said the Public Ministry was in favour of changing Sócrates’ terms of detention as it considered it had “reinforced the consolidation of evidence” and that Sócrates no longer posed a threat to the inquiry.
“The central court of criminal instruction has determined that the defendant remain subject to house arrest (without an electronic tag) as well as prohibited from contacting other defendants in the case”.
Intriguingly – and coming on the same day as the news that three major football matches are planned for looming election day (click here) – Sócrates’ release coincided with the Portugal – France Euro 2016 qualifying match, playing out in Lisbon.
Whether it will add a new charge to the nation’s pre-election campaign, remains to be seen. For now, reaction is muted with prime minister Pedro Passos Coelho refusing to comment and Socialist leader António Costa saying the two situations are very separate.
Talking to SIC noticias last night, he said: “They are running in parallel. People will determine how they vote, just as Justice will determine its functions and Engineer José Sócrates will determine his defence”.
As the nation’s media has long explained, Sócrates is under suspicion of corruption, fiscal fraud and money-laundering on a vast scale.
National tabloid Correio da Manhã has consistently alluded to suspicions that Sócrates even bent planning laws in exchange for financial kick-backs, and today’s front page returns to the €12 million alleged to have come from the Algarve’s Vale do Lobo resort, as a “commission”.
The “Vale do Lobo connection” is also thought to involve co-defendant and former Socialist minister Armando Vara, who remains under house arrest with an electronic tag as part of the ongoing Marquês investigation.
With Sócrates’ release to a house owned by his former wife Sofia Fava, all Marquês’ nine defendants are now out of jail, though a total of four are now under house arrest, forbidden to make contact with each other.
Another proviso of Sócrates’ release is that he does not make any contact with Hélder Bataglia, claims CM – one of the joint owners of Vale do Lobo.