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Corruption probe in Portugal, prime minister resigns

Screen shot of Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa speaking on SIC television network. (David Carmena/YJI)

Coimbra, PORTUGAL – Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa abruptly resigned today amid a corruption investigation.

According to a press release from  Portugal’s Office of the Attorney General, there are searches going on at 17 homes, five law offices or homes of lawyers and 20 other sites, including space used by the head of Costa’s office.

Other searches included spaces within the Ministry of Environment and Climate Action, the Ministry of Infrastructure and the State Secretariat for Energy and Climate, at the Sines City Council and more.

The statement from the attorney general’s office said that at issue are possible crimes of malfeasance, active and passive corruption by political office holders and influence peddling.

The investigation has to do with lithium exploration in Portugal’s lithium mines in Romano and Barroso, according to the press release.

At the moment, five people have been arrested, including Sines Mayor Nuno Mascarenhas; Vítor Escária, the head of Costa’s office; Diogo Lacerda Machado, a close advisor to Costa and two businessmen, according to the Portuguese newspaper Público. Mascarenhas is a member of Costa’s Socialist Party.

Costa’s government has ended after eight years where controversies, especially in the fields of health and education, have been continuous.

According to Portuguese media, the corruption inquiry not only involves lithium projects in Montalegre, in the north of the country, but also for financial crimes in the business related to green hydrogen.​

The region of Montalegre is famous for its mines, and Costa’s government in 2015 and 2016 authorized lithium. The people of the area opposed that plan, arguing that the landscape and their health would be severely damaged by the mining.

With Costa’s resignation, Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa is expected to call for elections in the coming months.

On live television Tuesday, Costa did not admit any wrongdoing but said he “is not going to reapply for next elections.”

David Carmena is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.

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