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Portugal's prime minister resigns over a corruption investigation

Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa gestures during a news conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Tuesday. Costa says he is resigning after being involved in a widespread corruption probe. An investigative judge issued arrest warrants for Costa's chief of staff, the mayor of Sines and three other people.
Ana Brigida
/
AP
Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa gestures during a news conference in Lisbon, Portugal, Tuesday. Costa says he is resigning after being involved in a widespread corruption probe. An investigative judge issued arrest warrants for Costa's chief of staff, the mayor of Sines and three other people.

Updated November 7, 2023 at 5:29 PM ET

LISBON, Portugal — Portuguese Prime Minister António Costa resigned Tuesday after his government was involved in a widespread corruption probe, sending a shock wave through the normally tranquil politics of the European Union member.

The 62-year-old Costa, Portugal's Socialist leader since 2015, asserted his innocence but said in a nationally televised address that "in these circumstances, obviously, I have presented my resignation to the president of the republic."

The announcement came hours after police arrested his chief of staff while raiding several public buildings and other properties as part of the probe.

The state prosecutor's office said the Supreme Court was examining suspects' "use of the prime minister's name and his involvement" when carrying out allegedly illicit activities. It said the minister of infrastructure, João Galamba, and the head of the environmental agency were among those named as suspects.

Portuguese president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa quickly accepted Costa's resignation. He is expected to dissolve parliament and call for a new election.

The president said in a statement that he is meeting representatives of the political parties represented in the Portuguese parliament on Wednesday, and that he will speak to the nation after the Council of State gathers on Thursday.

Costa teared up while thanking his family for their support.

"I totally trust the justice system," he said. "I want to say, eye to eye to the Portuguese, that no illicit or even reprehensible act weighs on my conscience." He acknowledged that he was not "above the law."

"The dignity of the prime minister's office is not compatible with any suspicion on his integrity, good conduct, and even less so with the suspicion that any criminal acts were committed," Costa said.

An investigative judge had issued arrest warrants for Vítor Escária, Costa's chief of staff; the mayor of the town of Sines; and three others because they represented a flight risk and to protect evidence, the prosecutor's office said in a statement.

The judge is investigating alleged malfeasance, corruption of elected officials and influence peddling related to lithium mine concessions near Portugal's northern border with Spain and plans for a green hydrogen plant and data center in Sines on the south coast.

The police raids included the premises of the ministry of the environment, the ministry of infrastructure, the Sines town council, private homes and offices.

Portugal's lithium mines and green hydrogen projects are part of the continent's green initiative being pushed, and heavily funded, by the European Union. Costa has been a major backer of the projects and an ally of Spain's acting Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Costa had looked set to remain in power for several years after his Socialists scored a landslide victory in elections last year.

But in December 2022, his infrastructure and housing minister was forced to quit amid an outcry over a 500,000-euro ($533,000) compensation payment made to a board member of state-owned flag carrier TAP Air Portugal. The junior minister for infrastructure also stepped down.

A total of 10 senior government officials have left their jobs since Costa's party won the 2022 ballot.

Costa said he had no prior indication he was being scrutinized by legal authorities.

"This is a phase of my life that comes to an end," he said.

In the streets of Lisbon, some residents were wary of new instability in the country while others commended Costa for his swift resignation.

"Unfortunately there are a lot of people struggling in this country, and now suddenly the government falls and I think this will aggravate the whole situation and the sense of insecurity that people already feel," said Teresa Veiga, a 62-year-old education assistant.

Pedro Filipe, 29, who works as a software developer in the Portuguese capital, said he welcomed Tuesday's developments.

"We were in need of something to shake things up because there is some inertia, with a political class that is increasingly corrupt," he said. "Sometimes you need some instability so that something better can come next."

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By Helena Alves and Joseph Wilson. Wilson reported and Renata Brito contributed from Barcelona, Spain.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press