Portugal – web of lithium / hydrogen corruption entangles former minister
Portugal – web of lithium / hydrogen corruption entangles former minister.
he speed with which details of Portugal’s political earthquake are moving has seemingly overtaken justice officials themselves.
This morning, Lusa is reporting that “Portugal’s former environment minister João Pedro Matos Fernandes is suspected of passive corruption and prevarication in the lithium and hydrogen case, with the public prosecutor’s office (MP) pointing suspicions at his actions in relation to the H2 Sines consortium.
“According to the public prosecutor’s indictment, to which Lusa has had access, Matos Fernandes, who has not been charged, is alleged to have imposed on the Resilient Group the integration of the companies REN, EDP and Galp into its green hydrogen project called Green Flamingo in 2020 – together with the minister for infrastructures who was then secretary of state for energy, João Galamba.
“In July of that year, João Galamba, who is already a defendant in the case, ended up dismissing the Resilient Group on the grounds that it would not be compatible with the H2 Sines consortium, based on REN, EDP and Galp.
“These companies were later joined by the Portuguese company Martifer and the Danish company Vestas, and the public prosecutor considers it indicative that Matos Fernandes collaborated after leaving the government with Copenhagen Infrastructures Partner, in which Vestas invested.
“Prosecutors also pointed out that the ex-minister was also hired in the meantime as a consultant by Abreu Advogados, a firm that provides legal advice to Copenhagen, and that he had contacts considered suspicious with Martifer’s chairman, Carlos Martins.
“Matos Fernandes’ name is also associated with suspicions regarding the concession of the lithium mine in Barroso, in the municipality of Boticas, to the company Savannah.
“According to the prosecutors, the former minister – in concerted action with João Galamba and Rui Oliveira Neves, then director of GALP (and one of the five detainees in this investigation) – unduly imposed the oil company’s entry into the Savannah Lithium stake.
“Matos Fernandes’ activity is also being investigated in relation to the approval of legislation on waste management, since Abreu Advogados advises companies in this sector and the Association of Non-Hazardous Waste Management Companies (APERA), which was a sector under his supervision.
“The public prosecutor also believes that the former minister undermined the fight against drought in favour of a better result for the Socialist Party in the 2022 legislative elections.
“Matos Fernandes had been alerted to the worsening drought on January 17, and only convened the permanent drought commission – with a view to halting energy production at five dams and stopping the use of water for irrigation at the Bravura reservoir – on February 1, two days after the elections.
“In addition to these matters, the indictment also points out that the former minister imposed the names of architects Inês Lobo and Alexandre Alves Costa on the jury for the tender to build the new Porto metro bridge over the River Douro, as if they had been chosen by the Order of Architects. However, the prosecutors said they still don’t know the motivation for this action or its results”.
The sheer volume of details being splashed across the media pages – in this case by the State news agency itself – is impressive, particularly as this investigation is billed as being under tight wraps/ Secrecy of Justice.
Already, lawyers for the five men behind bars are ‘complaining’. For instance, the lawyer representing Diogo Lacerda Machado – the former prime minister’s great friend, and alleged ‘grand facilitator’ of sundry deals – has stressed “there is a lack of evidence” and he hopes that in the end, the Public Prosecutor’s Office will left able to stand on its own feet.
Leaving the Central Criminal Court of Investigation in Lisbon, where he had been consulting the dozens of volumes of the case well into the late hours last night, Manuel Magalhães e Silva said that what he had found was “the criminalisation of a political-administrative process”, without “unequivocal evidence of any corruption.
“When we get to the end, I hope this can keep the Public Prosecutor’s Office (MP) on its feet. It may not happen. Up until now, the lack of evidence and the facts as they are described is indeed a serious situation regarding the criminalisation of political processes”.
When asked whether he meant this case was a kind of persecution, Magalhães e Silva said that was going a bit too far. It is more “a mischaracterisation on the part of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of what a political administrative process is“.
The lawyer even seems to think there is “effectively nothing irregular” in the various wiretaps involved, albeit there is the one that gave rise to the autonomous investigation that is taking place in the Supreme Court of Justice (focusing on the former prime minister), on which he “did not wish to comment”, says Lusa.
All in all, Magalhães e Silva seems to believe that his client was indeed a “link between investors and the government”, but more in the sense of being ‘useful’ and focused on the higher interests of the country.
In the case of the data centre in Sines, for example, this was an investment of €3.5 billion and which could reach €27 billion.
“Therefore, what we were dealing with was a project of the highest interest for Portugal, with the representativeness that this entails and in which the link was made between private investors and the various government authorities, public institutes and other entities that could intervene,” said the lawyer, visibly irritated that his client had had to be held in preventive custody at all.
“If Dr Lacerda Machado had been notified to be arraigned and to make a statement, he would have done so that same day or the next, there was no need for the show-off of detention,” he told reporters.
Equally, Tiago Rodrigues Bastos, the lawyer for Vítor Escária (the prime minister’s chief of staff) has said that there is “no justification” for detaining his client.
According to Lusa, the money found in Vítor Escária’s office in the official residence of the prime minister was “a lateral fact” and “absolutely irrelevant”.
Tiago Rodrigues Bastos, said:
It’s up to me to defend Vítor Escária’s honour and explain that this amount has nothing to do with the subject of the case.
“The Public Prosecutor’s Office knows this perfectly well. That has never been the thesis of the case, it has never been the case that Vitor Escária received money from anyone. It’s a sum of money that was seized from Vítor Escária’s office that relates to his previous professional activity,”
Meantime, Lusa reports that the political commission of the PS party is meeting today to decide its future without the man that clinched an absolute majority 21 months ago and is now no longer in the driving seat.