Portugal’s PM speech aims to calm investors after corruption scandal

 In Corruption, Investment, News

The live televised address on Saturday to the Portuguese people in which ‘caretaker’ Prime Minister António Costa apologised for recent events which shook the government and resulted in him resigning, looked more like an appeal to overseas investors that it was business as usual.

António Costa said Portugal was “open for business” and wanted Portugal to remain attractive to investors despite an ongoing corruption investigation into green hydrogen projects at Sines, the deep water port coastal town south of Lisbon.

The prime minister resigned on Tuesday after a Public Ministry probe into alleged shady deals involving lithium and hydrogen projects, and a project to build the largest date centre in Europe.

Concerned that the corruption allegations surrounding his inner circle could spook investors, Costa told the viewers in his address that Portugal’s authorities had complied with the rules and that there were strong regulations in place.

“To all those who have placed their trust in investing in Portugal, I want to say that today, and always, business investment is desired, welcome and will be well received,” Costa said.

He added that “eliminating bureaucracy… in strict respect of the law” was one of his government’s priorities to implementing projects in the national interest.

Costa also said that the seizure of envelopes with money in the office “of a person I chose hurts me… embarrasses me before the Portuguese, and I have a duty to apologise” adding that he felt “betrayed” when he learned that authorities had found tens of thousands of euros in envelopes in the office of his chief of staff, Vítor Escária, during a police raid of the prime minister’s official residence on Tuesday.

António Costa, who will head the caretaker government until snap elections are held on March 10 next year, insisted that Portugal continued to be a “safe place for overseas investors” to invest, despite scrapping two tax-friendly programmes to stimulate investment from small investors, overseas businesses and relocaters — the Golden Visa and Non-Habitual Resident schemes, since 2020.

The Public Ministry is investigating possible acts of corruption, influence peddling and malfeasance in connection with the concession of lithium mining projects in the north of the country, a green hydrogen mega-project, and a data centre, both in Sines.

However, despite saying he had the utmost respect for the continuing corruption investigations, António Costa stressed the government’s right to “make strategic investments” in projects aimed at spurring development and said that his administration had always acted “in strict compliance with the law” while “promoting regional development, removing bureaucracy and boosting transparency.”

“Future Portuguese governments must be guaranteed the freedom of political action to pursue legitimate strategies,” he said.

António Costa, while likely to be investigated or at least quizzed by the judicial authorities for what he may or may not have know about the allegations surrounding some of his inner circle, has maintained that his “conscience is clear” of any wrongdoing whatsoever.

© 2023 LUSA – Agência de Notícias de Portugal, S.A.