Portugal’s Prime Minister Antonio Costa Resigns Amid Corruption Investigation

Costa, from Portugal’s Socialist Party, has been prime minister since late 2015 (source: news.com.au)

Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa made a significant announcement on Tuesday, which sent shockwaves throughout the country. His decision to resign came as a result of his involvement in a corruption investigation concerning the allocation of energy-related contracts. The investigation, implicating Costa and others, revolves around allegations of financial impropriety, corruption by political figures, and influence peddling, as stated by public prosecutors.

Notably, Costa faces an independent investigation for his alleged personal intervention in expediting the licensing process for lithium exploration and hydrogen production. In light of these circumstances, Costa, during a press conference, expressed his belief that the responsibilities of the prime minister should not be coupled with any suspicion regarding his integrity. Consequently, he formally tendered his resignation to the president of the Republic.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Portugal’s head of state, accepted Costa’s resignation and called for a meeting of parliamentary parties on Wednesday with the intent of arranging an early election, according to a statement from the Portuguese presidency. Before early elections can be held, the president must convene the Council of State, which comprises the country’s most prominent politicians, former presidents, and other influential figures. The statement added that the President of the Republic would address the nation immediately following the Council of State meeting.

Antonio Costa, a member of Portugal’s Socialist Party, has served as the prime minister since late 2015 and secured re-election in January 2022. Carlos Cesar, president of the Socialist Party, affirmed the party’s readiness for any scenario, be it early elections or a change of leadership in the government.

Costa, during discussions with the media, expressed his surprise at the launch of the investigation and vehemently denied any wrongdoing. He emphasized that nobody is above the law, and the judicial authorities are free to conduct their investigations. Earlier in the day, Portuguese media reported that investigators had searched multiple ministries, including Costa’s offices and official residence.

Subsequently, public prosecutors indicted Infrastructure Minister Joao Galamba and issued an arrest warrant for Costa’s chief of staff. The investigation encompasses lithium mining concessions in northern Portugal, a hydrogen production project, and a data center planned by the company Start Campus in Sines, a town situated about 100 kilometers south of Lisbon. Arrest warrants were also issued for the mayor of Sines and two executives at Start Campus, citing flight risk and the possibility of ongoing illegal activities. The president of the executive board of the Portuguese Agency for the Protection of the Environment (APA) was also indicted.

One of the key controversies involved the approval of a lithium mining project by APA in May, an essential component for electric battery manufacturing. A second project was greenlit at the beginning of September, sparking opposition from environmental groups and parts of the local population. Portugal boasts the largest lithium reserves in Europe and is the leading producer on the continent, but its current output is primarily directed toward the ceramic and glass-making industries.

Costa’s popularity had been on the decline due to a series of scandals, including the infamous “TAPgate,” which resulted in the departure of numerous ministers and secretaries of state. The scandal emerged following revelations that a TAP director received a substantial severance package, causing a public outcry. Alexandra Reis, the recipient of the severance package, subsequently held positions at state-run air traffic control company NAV and later became a junior minister at the treasury.