World News

Portuguese ex-PM Socrates indicted on corruption charges

LISBON (Reuters) - Former Portuguese prime minister Jose Socrates was indicted on graft and money laundering charges on Wednesday in a vast corruption investigation that he has dismissed as politically-motivated.

Former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates leaves a polling station after voting in Lisbon, Portugal, October 4, 2015. Socrates, who is under house arrest, received permission from the Portuguese authorities to vote. REUTERS/Juan Medina

Socrates has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and his lawyer Joao Araujo said he would fight the charges contained in the more than 4,000-page indictment.

“The 4,000 pages are part of a spectacle, they only serve to make believe that there is something, when there is nothing,” Araujo told reporters.

The indictment, issued after a four-year inquiry, accuses Socrates of playing a pivotal role and receiving millions of euros in a scheme involving the disgraced former heads of the Espirito Santo banking empire and Portugal Telecom.

Both entities have since ceased to exist, inflicting billions of euros in losses on taxpayers and shareholders, and their former top brass have been accused of other crimes in separate investigations.

Socrates, a Socialist prime minister from 2005 to 2011, is charged with three counts of passive corruption while holding political office, 16 counts of money-laundering, nine counts of forging documents and three counts of tax fraud, committed between 2006 and 2015.

A trial date has not yet been set.

Prosecutors said Socrates gave illicit commercial benefits to a construction company, LENA, in return for payments received via middlemen, who were also indicted, via a Swiss bank account.

A former top-level manager at state-owned bank Caixa Geral de Depositos has also been charged with facilitating payments.

Ricardo Salgado, former CEO of Banco Espirito Santo (BES) and head of the Espirito Santo banking family, is charged with paying Socrates to sway Portugal Telecom to follow a strategy defined by Salgado.

Salgado is also accused of paying Portugal Telecom’s former CEO Zeinal Bava and chairman Henrique Granadeiro - both of whom were also indicted.

BES, which was a major shareholder in Portugal Telecom, collapsed in 2014 under a mountain of debt, causing a default of nearly 1 billion euros at Portugal Telecom, which has since been sold off.

A total of 19 people and nine firms in the construction, resort development, consulting and investment sectors have been indicted.

Salgado, the former Portugal Telecom executives and LENA have denied any wrongdoing.

Socrates resigned as prime minister in the middle of his second four-year term in 2011 as an escalating debt crisis forced him to request an international bailout, which imposed painful austerity measures on Portugal. He was arrested in 2014 and spent months in prison before being shifted to house arrest.

The Socialists regained power in 2015 under Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who was a minister in Socrates’ first cabinet.

Reporting by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Robin Pomeroy