Monday, December 4, 2023

Portugal Prime Minister Antonio Costa resigns unexpectedly

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Portugal’s Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, made an unexpected resignation on Tuesday following a series of dramatic events. His decision to step down came in the wake of police raids on government facilities as part of an investigation into corruption and “influence peddling.” An arrest warrant had been issued for Costa’s chief of staff, as reported by The New York Times.

Antonio Costa has held the position of prime minister since 2015. In a televised address, he expressed his surprise at being implicated in criminal proceedings, asserting, “No illicit act weighs on my conscience.” However, he emphasized that the dignity of the office of the prime minister should not be clouded by any suspicions regarding integrity or conduct, let alone allegations of criminal activity. Therefore, he felt it was necessary to tender his resignation.

A judge authorized the police to conduct searches at 37 locations, including the chief of staff’s office, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Infrastructure, a City Council office in Sines, and several private residences, according to a statement from the prosecutor general’s office, as reported by The New York Times.

The investigation pertains to lithium exploration concessions in northern Portugal and a hydrogen-energy production plant and data center in Sines, located on the country’s southern coast.

Though the statement did not explicitly name Costa, arrest warrants were issued for the head of the prime minister’s office, identified by local media as Vitor Escaria, along with the mayor of Sines and three others. Additionally, Portugal’s minister of infrastructure and the head of Portugal’s Environmental Agency were named as suspects in the statement.

The prosecutor’s office revealed that the suspects had allegedly invoked Antonio Costa’s name and authority to expedite procedures related to the exploration concessions. Portugal, with its substantial lithium reserves, plays a vital role in the production of electric car batteries and renewable energy.

Antonio Costa, leader of the Socialist Party, first assumed office in 2015 through a unique political arrangement, where he lost an election but managed to secure the prime minister’s position by garnering the support of two smaller left-wing parties. Initially dubbed a “geringonca” or “contraption” by his opponents, the coalition proved more resilient than expected, keeping him in power.

In 2022, the Socialists secured an outright majority in snap elections, allowing them to govern without forming a coalition. This electoral success was seen as a validation of Costa’s leadership during the country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, even though he faced scrutiny over his management of the economy, according to The New York Times.

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