Portugal ex-PM Socrates to stand trial for money laundering

Lisbon (AFP) –


A Portuguese court cleared the way on Friday for former prime minister Jose Socrates to stand trial for alleged money laundering and falsifying documents, but cleared him of corruption charges in the years-long case.

Prosecutors accuse Socrates of pocketing 34 million euros ($40 million) from three companies while he was in power between 2005 and 2011, but the ex-prime minister has maintained his innocence.

He is alleged to have concealed funds with the complicity of businessman and longtime friend Carlos Santos Silva.

The decision was a blow to prosecutors, who had accused a total of 19 people and nine companies of 189 crimes, a move that had sparked an uproar in the country.

Investigating judge Ivo Rosa ultimately held up only around a dozen charges as he read out a summary of his decision over the course of more than three hours, carried live on television.

Prosecutors are allowed to appeal. A trial date has not yet been set.

"All the prosecution's big lies have fallen apart," Socrates said as he left the court in Lisbon, pledging to continue to fight to prove his innocence.

Besides Socrates and Santos Silva, former banker Ricardo Salgado faces three accusations of breach of trust and ex-minister Armando Vara will be tried for money laundering.

- 'Smear campaign' -

Rosa dismantled many of the prosecutors' conclusions almost point-by-point, speaking at time of an "absence of evidence" and "lack of rigour".

Regarding the bribes Socrates allegedly received from Salgado, the former head of Espirito Santo bank, the judge said the evidence was "manifestly insufficient to support his conviction for any form of passive corruption."

The accusations against Socrates have served as an embarrassment for current Prime Minister Antonio Costa, a member of the first of his two governments.

Shortly before the hearing on Friday, Costa reiterated that he had "nothing to add" since the scandal erupted with the arrest of Socrates in November 2014.

The arrest came as Costa was taking the reins of the Socialist party and calling on supporters not to confuse its interests with those of its former leader.

At the time, Socrates' image was already tarnished by his management of Portugal's debt crisis, which in 2011 prompted him to seek international financial assistance to avoid the country's bankruptcy, enabling the right to rise to power.

Placed in pre-trial detention for nine months, then under house arrest before being released six weeks later, Socrates said he was the victim of a "smear campaign".

However, he admitted in interviews that he regularly borrowed money from his friend Santos Silva, a relationship he will likely be called upon to clarify during his trial.