Secretary of State for Environmental Protection quits amid wildfire money corruption investigation
José Artur Neves, secretary of state for environmental protection, handed in his resignation on Wednesday, the same day police and magistrates searched government offices as part of a corruption investigation.
A government statement released on Wednesday said Artur Neves resigned for personal reasons. However, the attorney general’s office had announced earlier in the day that Neves’ office was among dozens being searched in the operation.
The attorney general’s statement said the investigation targets potential misuse of public funds to acquire emergency kits distributed among villages and hamlets at risk from Portugal’s annual summer wildfire scourge.
He was found to have placed an order with a company close to his party, at well above market prices, for thousands of emergency kits for residents of areas at risk from Portugal’s summer wildfires, leading to the allegations of fraud regarding the acquisition of the fire risk prevention equipment.
The kits had already been the subject of controversy when journalists showed they are not fire-resistant.
The investigation comes at a bad time for the governing Socialist Party, with a general election less than three weeks away.
However, recent opinion polls have indicated that the centre-left Socialists have a strong lead before the Oct. 6 ballot.
“Justice is functioning, the government is calm, “ said Prime Minister Antonio Costa.