Ex-Portuguese PM remanded in custody in fraud case
The detention of Portugal's former prime minister Jose Socrates on suspicion of tax evasion and money laundering has set off a new political earthquake in a country already rocked by high-level scandal.
Socrates, 57, has been held since his shock arrest at Lisbon airport on Friday, a first for a former leader of Portugal since its military dictatorship ended in 1974.
After lengthy questioning on Monday in connection with the corruption probe, a judge ordered the brash former Socialist leader be held in custody in a prison in the southeast of the country.
Socrates, who was prime minister from 2005 to 2011, has been placed under formal investigation suspected of “tax evasion, corruption and money laundering”, according to the judge’s statement read out to reporters.
His attorney Joao Araujo branded the decision “deeply unjust and unjustified” and vowed to appeal.
Under “provisional detention”, Socrates can be held for up to a year because his case is of “extreme complexity”, although the investigating magistrate must reexamine his situation every three months.
Businessman Carlos Santos Silva and Socrates’s chauffeur Joao Perna were also being held, while lawyer Goncalo Trindade Ferreira was freed on bail.
Searches have been carried out in recent days at business premises and Socrates’ home in Lisbon.
Luis Montenegro, parliamentary leader of the ruling Social Democrats (PSD), said Portugal’s image had been tarnished “both internally and abroad” by the probe.
Socrates’s arrest is the latest bombshell in Portuguese politics, coming hard on the heels of a scandal that cost interior minister Miguel Macedo his job last week.
Macedo resigned on Sunday over a money-laundering and influence-peddling scandal linked to a so-called “golden visa” programme, which gives residency permits to wealthy foreigners.
The head of the border police, Manuel Jarmela Palos, who has since resigned, was among those arrested in the “golden visas” probe.
He has been placed under house arrest and ordered to wear an electronic bracelet, Portuguese media reported Tuesday, as has justice ministry official Maria Antonia Anes, also arrested in the visa probe.
“Corruption is a serious problem in Portugal for political leaders because there are so many situations that involve conflicts of interest,” Joao Paulo Batalha, a local representative for Transparency International, told AFP.
– Government stays quiet –
The centre-right government has said little about the corruption case.
Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho said Sunday that the probe “pertains to the law and not politics” and that Portugal “has strong institutions that work”.
According to Portuguese media reports, it was information from state-owned bank Caixa Geral de Depositos that sparked the probe.
Investigators have been looking into transfers involving the former Socialist leader’s account in comparison with earnings he has reported to tax authorities.
Particular attention is said to have been given to an apartment in Paris estimated at nearly three million euros ($3.7 million). Socrates lived there in 2012 while studying philosophy in the French capital.
“I have no money or accounts abroad. I have always lived off the income from my own job,” Socrates said in July, when he was questioned by the press over another money laundering case.
Socrates is a colourful character, even down to his name. Opponents say his choice to shorten his full name to Socrates, like the ancient Greek philosopher, was no more than political marketing.
The timing of the case is awkward for Lisbon mayor Antonio Costa, a former interior minister under Socrates and the Socialist party’s new secretary general.
So far Costa has refused to distance himself from Socrates, saying the Socialist party “does not adopt Stalinist practices of getting rid of photos” of former leaders.
Socrates’ tenure as prime minister was marked by the financial crisis that hit the EU member state hard.
He announced his resignation as prime minister in March 2011 after parliament rejected an austerity budget.
Shortly afterwards the country received a 78-billion-euro ($97 billion) bailout package from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund in exchange for a rigorous programme of fiscal discipline which came to an end in May.