Eurojust chief quits over power abuse scandal
17.12.09 @ 17:36
BRUSSELS - The head Eurojust, the EU's anti-crime agency, resigned on Wednesday after he was suspended for 30 days for having put pressure on Portuguese prosecutors in order to stop a corruption probe involving Prime Minister Jose Socrates.
The Hague-based EU body on Thursday tried to distance itself from the scandal around the Portuguese prosecutor Jose da Mota, who has chaired the board of Eurojust for the past two years.
Eurojust will not suffer any image damage because this was a "national matter" which did not involve the EU agency as such, its spokesman Johannes Thuy told this website.
But he would not comment on the fact that the alleged pressure put on prosecutors to drop a corruption probe against Mr Socrates happened while Mr da Mota was already a member of Eurojust - in 2002.
A disciplinary inquiry launched in May by Portugal's chief prosecutor concluded earlier this week with the decision to suspend Mr da Mota from his functions for 30 days. He subsequently offered his resignation to Prime Minister Socrates, who accepted it.
The accusations were made in connection with a case pointing at Mr Socrates at a time when he was minister of the environment 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 in April 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.
Mr da Mota's ties with the current premier go back to the late 1990s, when they were both state secretaries in the leftist government of Antonio Guterres, for justice and environment, respectively. In 2002, when the new EU body was formed, Mr Mota was transferred to Hague as Portugal's representative to Eurojust.
The board is made of 27 representatives - prosecutors or judges - from each member state, who elected him as chairman in 2007, at a time when the so-called Freeport case had already started.
As head of Eurojust, Mr Mota represented the EU body in public events and chaired its internal meetings, including on the Freeport case, which involved Spanish and British prosecutors.
Portugal has not yet appointed anyone else to replace Mr da Mota. The vice-chair with most experience, Michele Coninsx from Belgium, will temporarily take over the reins of Eurojust until new elections are organised early next year.