Portugal PM vows to defend honour over mall

Portugal's prime minister, Jose Socrates, is embroiled in an alleged corruption scandal over permission granted for a British development on protected land outside Lisbon.

Police searched the home of Mr Socrates's uncle this week in connection with the affair, which is said to have taken place when Mr Socrates was environment minister in a previous socialist government. Britain's Serious Fraud Office is said to be investigating the unexplained transfer of some 4m euros to bank accounts in Portugal at the time of the deal, press reports say.

Mr Socrates is alleged to have waived environmental restrictions in 2002, following intervention by his uncle and cousin, to grant the British company Freeport a licence to build the Alcochete mall or "village outlet", a gigantic emporium of designer shops south of the Portuguese capital.

The English royal family is reported to have a large stake in Freeport, which was taken over by the US conglomerate Carlyle in 2007.

Mr Socrates denies having misused his ministerial position to allow the shopping mall to go ahead, or having taken bribes from Freeport. In a rare television appearance at the weekend, he scorned the storm of media allegations, which was spearheaded by Lisbon weekly "Sol".

"The reports and the way they are presented are meant to target me personally and weaken me politically in an election year," Mr Socrates said. "Those who think they can beat me this way are wrong, because I'll fight to defend my honour, my integrity."

The Alcochete project was one of a number of major schemes that carved through Portugal's virgin lands, sometimes in defiance of environmental protection orders, in a drive to modernise the country.

The scandal has re-emerged at the worst possible moment for Mr Socrates, who faces general elections this autumn battered by the economic and financial crisis sweeping Portugal.

Environmental approval of the Freeport Outlet project met all legal requirements at the time, Mr Socrates said. He denied that the go-ahead, granted three days before general elections in 2002, was given with "unusual haste". The shopping complex, built in an environmental protection area along the Tagus estuary, needed cabinet approval for regulatory changes.

Ministers reportedly approved the changes just three days before the polls, which Antonio Guterres's Socialists lost to Jose Manuel Durao Barroso's conservative Social Democratic Party. Portugal's environment secretariat subsequently granted planning permission.

"I never gave any instructions to give the case urgent treatment," Mr Socrates insisted. "I reject all insinuations and slanderous allegations that involve my name regarding this case."

The media spotlight focuses on the prime minister's uncle and cousin, Julio and Hugo Monteiro. Hugo Monteiro is alleged to have held meetings with Charles Smith, a Scottish intermediary contracted by Freeport to ease the deal. Julio Monteiro is then said to have used his kinship with Mr Socrates to set up a meeting with the erstwhile environment minister for Mr Smith.

Mr Socrates vaguely recalls meeting Mr Smith in 2001, but "only to present to him the government's environmental requirements," after his ministry had twice blocked the building project. He says he has nothing to do with his uncle's business operations.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Refrigeration Engineer

£24000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: These refrigeration specialists...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Coordinator - Logistics and Supply Chain

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an operational role and...

Recruitment Genius: CNC Sheet Metal Worker / Fabricator

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working within the workshop of ...

Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Engineer

£20000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This specialist high tech compa...

Day In a Page

On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific
In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

Dame Colette Bowe - interview
When do the creative juices dry up?

When do the creative juices dry up?

David Lodge thinks he knows
The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

Fashion's Cher moment

Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

Health fears over school cancer jab

Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

Weather warning

Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

High hopes for LSD

Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

Saving Private Brandt

A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral