Eurojust chief embroiled in Portuguese corruption scandal
13.05.09 @ 17:32
BRUSSELS - The EU's judicial co-operation body, Eurojust, on Wednesday tried to distance itself from a scandal involving its head, Jose da Mota, who allegedly put pressure on prosecutors in order to stop a corruption probe involving Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates.
"For the time being, Eurojust does not want to comment on this case. It is a national case in Portugal and Eurojust is not involved in this case," Johannes Thuy, a spokesman for the Hague-based EU body told this website.
Portugal's general prosecutor on Tuesday launched a disciplinary procedure against Mr Mota following an internal investigation "of alleged pressures" on magistrates.
The accusations were made in connection with a case pointing at Mr Socrates at a time when he was minister of enviroment and allowed the construction of an outlet shopping mall on protected land allegedly in exchange for kickbacks.
Two magistrates dealing with the so-called Freeport affair last month accused Mr Mota of having tried to persuade them to side-line the investigation at the request of the premier and the minister of justice.
The premier and Mr Mota's relationship goes back to the late nineties, when they worked in the same government as state secretaries for environment and justice respectively. In 2002, when the new EU body was formed, Mr Mota was transferred to Hague as Portugal's representative to Eurojust.
He was elected head of the judicial co-operation body in 2007, at a time when the so-called Freeport case had already started.
As head of Eurojust, Mr Mota not only represents the EU body in public events, but also chairs the internal meetings, such as the one last year when Portuguese prosecutors asked their British counterparts to hand them over the evidence collected in the Freeport case.
If formally indicted after the disciplinary procedure which might last around 10 days, Mr Mota would most probably be replaced by someone else as Portugal's representative to Eurojust.
"These allegations are incredibly serious and, if proved, call into question the political independence and credibility of Eurojust," Stephen Booth from Open Europe, a London-based eurosceptic think-tank told this website.
Socrates to survive in elections
The Socialist Prime Minister, who currently holds an absolute majority in the Parliament, is set to be re-elected in September, despite some losses in the opinion polls due to the Freeport affair, pundits say.
"Mr Socrates is starting to fall in the polls and he will not manage an absolute majority like in 2005, but he will still win," Tiago Luz Pedro, political editor at Publico, one of Portugal's main newspapers, told EUObserver.
British fraud investigators pointed at Prime Minister due to unexplained missing sums in the company's books, related to the period Freeport was bidding for a construction licence in Portugal in 2002, when Mr Socrates was minister of enviroment.
The Socialist politician has constantly denied these accusations and claimed the scandal was politically motivated.