Portugal’s Socialist Prime Minister António Luis Santos da Costa resigned after law enforcement searched his residence because of a corruption investigation related to concessions of lithium deposits and green hydrogen projects.
On Tuesday, Costa announced his resignation, saying it was “incompatible with the dignity of the position.”
“My obligation is to preserve the dignity of democratic institutions,” Costa said at the São Bento palace. He presented his resignation to the President of the Republic, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, during his second visit to the official residence in Belém within less than four hours.
The investigation aims to clarify crimes of prevarication, passive and active corruption and influence peddling.
In his resignation speech, he reiterated two key points. First, he claimed ignorance regarding the alleged corruption. Second, he emphasized that the mere announcement of an impending investigation by the Attorney General’s Office renders him unfit to continue heading the government.
Costa remarked, “Clearly, I have submitted my resignation,” and emphasized his intention to leave office “with a clear conscience.”
Prior to his resignation, it had become public knowledge that the Supreme Court had initiated a separate inquiry to elucidate Costa’s role in the approval of two lithium mining projects in Montalegre and Covas do Barroso, as well as a green hydrogen production initiative in Sines.
“I am not above the law. If there is any suspicion, let it be investigated,” Costa said, followed by making remarks about his efforts against corruption. “I am calm with the judgment of my conscience, not only regarding illegal acts but even reprehensible ones.”
After Costa’s resignation, President de Sousa announced that he would receive the parliamentary leaders on Wednesday and convene a Council of State for Thursday, after which he will address the country.
Chief of staff, businessman arrested
Before Costa’s resignation, authorities arrested his chief of staff, Vítor Escária, and businessman Diogo Lacerda Machado to prevent them from leaving the country and to prevent the continuation of criminal activity or the alteration of the investigation.
“During the course of the investigations, knowledge also emerged of the invocation by suspects of the name and authority of the prime minister and of his intervention to unblock procedures in this context,” reads a statement by the prosecutor’s office.
During the investigation, the Public Security Police did 42 searches, including the official residence of the Prime Minister of the São Bento Palace, the Ministries of Infrastructure and Environment and Climate Action, the Municipal Chamber of Sines, several public organizations, 17 homes and five law offices.
The Minister of Infrastructure João Galamba, and the president of the board of directors of the Portuguese Environment Agency Nuno Lacasta are considered official suspects. In addition, the mayor of Sines, Nuno Mascarenhas, and two businessmen from the company Start Campus, which promoted a project in Sines, were arrested in the operation.
The investigation also involves the former Minister of the Environment João Pedro Matos Fernández.
Lithium open pit mine approved in World Agricultural Heritage site
The investigation aims to determine whether Portuguese companies (EDP Group, Galp, and Redes Energeticas Nacionais) received favourable treatment for a green hydrogen business project in Sines, an industrial hub transitioning from polluting factories to decarbonized ones.
Initially, a Dutch businessman proposed the project to export green hydrogen to Holland in the summer of 2019 before the government publicly involved the three Portuguese companies. The investigation also encompasses the concessions for lithium exploitation in Montalegre.
Another significant lithium exploitation project in Covas do Barroso, located near the Galician border, has faced irregularities. Despite receiving nearly a thousand complaints and a negative report from a UN rapporteur, it obtained authorization from the Portuguese Environment Agency this year. This region has the unique distinction of being declared a World Agricultural Heritage site by the Food and Agriculture Organization.
The Environment Agency approved the project of the British company Savannah Resources Plc (LON: SAV) in May but acknowledged in its report that it would jeopardize the UN organization’s declaration. The agency observed that the high-pressure projects in the area could compromise its World Agricultural Heritage classification and noted the lack of compatibility and relevant landscape integration for the project.