Portuguese Prime Minister, Antonio Costa, resigned from his position on Tuesday following reports that law enforcement had named him as a person of interest in a graft probe. The investigation centered around his chief-of-staff, Vitor Escaria, who was arrested for alleged corruption and influence-peddling. Costa denied any wrongdoing but decided that stepping down was the appropriate move, even though he would serve as acting prime minister until his successor was chosen. He also made it clear that he would not seek a fourth term in office.
The investigation revolves around several national projects, including lithium mining projects in Barroso and Montalegre in the northern region of Portugal. Additionally, two major infrastructure projects in the port city of Sines, including a hydrogen plant and a data center, are under scrutiny. The suspects are accused of illegally facilitating the issuance of permits for these developments and using the prime minister’s name to push through their desired decisions. Minister of Infrastructure Joao Galamba and Nuno Lacasta, the head of the Portuguese Environment Agency, have also been indicted in connection with the alleged crimes.
The arrest and the investigation have stirred controversy, especially as there had been prior protests against the lithium projects by environmental organizations and local residents in the areas where the mining was planned. Critics argue that the quality of the reserves is too low to justify the potential environmental damage that their extraction would cause. This spotlight on lithium mining is timely as the metal is essential for the production of batteries required for phasing out fossil fuels. Portugal is seeking to secure a bigger share of the production chain value.
President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa will now decide whether to call a snap parliamentary election or allow Costa’s Socialist Party, which won 120 seats in the 230-member legislature last year, to vote for a new premier. He scheduled consultations with political party representatives for the following day. Costa’s resignation comes after a period of strong economic growth during his leadership. He had initially overseen a time of austerity measures but then helped usher in an economic boom for the country.
Despite his achievements, Costa’s latest term as prime minister was marred by several scandals, resulting in more than a dozen of his staff resigning for various reasons over the past two years. This current corruption investigation was the tipping point that led to the announcement of his resignation. As the situation unfolds, it may have significant implications for the political landscape in Portugal, as well as for Costa’s future aspirations on the European stage.