António Costa, who has been Prime Minister of Portugal since 2015, submitted his resignation to President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa on Tuesday afternoon. The president accepted the resignation.
Shortly before, a political bomb had exploded, leaving Costa no other choice. The Attorney General announced that five people had been arrested in an investigation into possible corruption surrounding lithium exploration projects in Montalegre and the construction of a green hydrogen production site.
One of the five is Costa’s chief of staff Vítor Escária. A second person arrested is a consultant who is good friends with the prime minister. After more than forty searches in, among others, Costa’s official residence and the Ministries of Environment and Infrastructure, the minister of the latter department, João Galamba, was also identified as a suspect. An arrest warrant has been issued against the Social Democratic mayor of Sines, where the hydrogen factory is to be built.
The Supreme Court will further investigate whether the statements of some suspects are true that Prime Minister Costa himself intervened to unblock procedures. Costa stated at his press conference that he has a clear conscience: ‘As far as I know, I am not accused. But apart from that, the dignity of the role of prime minister and the confidence of the Portuguese in their institutions are not compatible with a prime minister whose integrity is questioned.”
According to Politico Costa’s Portuguese government enthusiastically embraced projects for the extraction of critical raw materials as part of European ambitions to become less dependent on countries such as China. However, these projects were controversial due to their impact on the environment and the low quality of the raw materials.
The investigators’ operation on Tuesday is part of an investigation that began at the end of 2019 after an anonymous complaint about the preferential treatment of Portuguese companies in the projects.
Figurehead Social Democrats
The scandal is a serious blow to the European social democrats. Costa managed to help his country recover relatively quickly from the economic crisis, won the elections for the third time in 2022 and was considered one of their figureheads. At the most recent European summit, at the end of October, it was heard in the corridors that he was a serious candidate to take over from Charles Michel as President of the European Council on behalf of the Social Democrats after the European elections.
‘Life phase over’
The 62-year-old Costa said at his press conference on Tuesday afternoon that he does not intend to “apply again for the position of prime minister.” It is a phase of life that is over.’ The president may decide to dissolve parliament and call new elections.
Since his party won the elections last year and obtained an absolute majority, his government has been in disarray. For example, the news that a board member of the Portuguese airline TAP had received a severance payment of 500,000 euros led to outrage and the resignation of the previous Minister of Infrastructure.