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A judge in Portugal has dismissed prosecutors’ charges of corruption and malfeasance in a probe into public officials that triggered the resignation of Prime Minister António Costa last week.
The ruling by judge Nuno Dias Costa left in place charges of influence peddling, but his move narrowed the scope of the investigation that rocked Portugal when police arrested five people and raided 43 government buildings and homes.
The judge’s ruling in the case known as “Operation Influencer” came on Monday as João Galamba, infrastructure minister, submitted his resignation after being named as a formal suspect by public prosecutors last week. He said that stepping down was not an admission of wrongdoing.
The actions of Costa, prime minister since 2015, are being investigated by prosecutors separately under the oversight of a supreme court judge.
The outgoing prime minister, a Socialist, has consistently denied wrongdoing and said he has a clear conscience.
Costa’s office told the Financial Times that the judge who made Monday’s ruling had thrown out the charges of corruption and malfeasance “considering that there were no grounds for any of them”.
“He only upheld one — influence peddling — referring to an environmental impact assessment in which the prime minister had no direct or indirect involvement,” his office added.
The judge also ordered the release of the five people arrested last week, including Vítor Escária, Costa’s chief of staff, and Lacerda Machado, a consultant known as a close friend of the prime minister.
Machado had to pay €150,000 in bail and give up his passport. Both men face charges of influence peddling and deny wrongdoing.
All of those released from custody are required to present themselves regularly to the authorities.
The prosecutors’ probe encompasses two lithium mines and a hydrogen production facility but is centred on a big data centre project in the town of Sines.
Last week prosecutors said that in the course of their investigation some suspects had alleged that the prime minister had intervened to “unblock procedures”.
Costa’s office said “the prime minister reaffirms his total availability to collaborate with justice”, but had still not been contacted by the authorities. “[He] only knows about the investigation through the media.”
His resignation prompted Portugal’s president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, to call a general election for March 10.
The contest to replace Costa as head of the Socialist party stepped up a gear on Monday as Pedro Nuno Santos, a former infrastructure minister, presented his candidacy, joining a race against José Luís Carneiro, internal affairs minister.
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