Portugal’s former PM jailed over fraud allegations

The accusations, splashed across the front pages, have shocked the Portuguese public. Picture: Getty
The accusations, splashed across the front pages, have shocked the Portuguese public. Picture: Getty
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A JUDGE has sent Portugal’s former prime minister Jose ­Socrates to prison while the ­ex-leader fights accusations of corruption, money-laundering and tax fraud.

The judge decided after an ­initial hearing that there was ­sufficient police evidence to keep Socrates in custody on ­preliminary charges of wrongdoing.

His lawyer, Joao Araujo, said his client denied the charges and would appeal against the ­custody decision.

Under Portuguese law, the public prosecutor will investigate further before presenting formal charges, a process that could take more than six months. A magistrate will then decide whether to put Socrates on trial.

The crimes carry a maximum sentence of 21 years in jail.

Socrates, 57, was Portugal’s centre-left Socialist prime minister from 2005 to 2011.

He was detained on his return from Paris last Friday and had already spent four nights in jail before yesterday’s hearing. Three other suspects were ­arrested as part of the investigation.

The judge issued the decision after investigators looked into suspicious money transfers and banking operations.

Socrates, who denies any wrongdoing, is being investigated alongside his driver, a close friend and a lawyer. Two of the suspects are also being held on remand, while a fourth has been barred from foreign travel.

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Officials refused to provide details, because a judicial secrecy law forbids the disclosure of ­information from ongoing ­investigations.

According to local media, Socrates is suspected of amassing a €20 million (£16m) fortune by taking bribes to favour certain companies during his time in power. The reports cited un-identified police sources.

One of the other suspects, Carlos Santos Silva, is said to be a long-time friend of Socrates. His construction ­company flourished during the former prime minister’s time in power.

Investigators are said to ­suspect that Socrates’ alleged illicit gains had been kept in a Swiss bank account held by Mr Silva.

The suspicions swirling around Socrates have generated Portugal’s third major scandal in four months. Taken together, the allegations have shaken public faith in the country’s political and business elite.

Last summer saw the collapse of the country’s largest and oldest listed bank, Banco Espirito Santo, and the arrest of its chief executive, Ricardo Espirito Santo Salgado, the patriarch of one of Portugal’s most distinguished families, on charges of fraud, ­forgery and money-laundering.

Earlier this month, police ­detained the head of the country’s immigration service and several other senior officials in a corruption investigation centred on the granting of residence permits to wealthy investors from outside the European Union.

The scandal involving the former prime minister has appalled the austerity-hit Portuguese.

Socrates requested a €78bn international bailout for Portugal in 2011 when the country was engulfed by a debt crisis that hit countries sharing the euro.

The bailout, which contributed to his election ­defeat a few months later, resulted in pay and pension cuts, steep tax increases and a spike in ­unemployment.

Socrates made his name as a liberal moderniser. He introduced abortion on demand and gay marriage in this mostly Roman Catholic country. He also put Portugal at the forefront of Europe’s drive to adopt renewable energy.

His downfall stunned the ­Portuguese public, although it is still unclear whether the inquiry relates to his time in office.

However, Portuguese media have reported allegations his driver, Joao Perna, made a number of trips transporting cash to Paris, where Socrates had been working in a new role at a pharmaceutical company.

After he left office three years ago, his home address was a smart apartment in Paris’s classy 16th arrondissement. After stepping down, he also attended a Paris university.

He returned to Portugal in 2013 to be a regular commentator on RTP television.

Prosecutors have detained several prominent people in corruption and fraud cases.

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