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
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Solution Architect - Contract

£500 - £600 per day: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Solution Architect is requir...

360 Resourcing Solutions: Export Sales Coordinator

£18k - 20k per year: 360 Resourcing Solutions: ROLE: Export Sales Coordinato...

Recruitment Genius: B2B Telesales Executive - OTE £35,000+

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest developer of mobile...

SThree: Talent Acquisition Consultant

£22500 - £27000 per annum + OTE £45K: SThree: Since our inception in 1986, STh...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue