José Luís Lopes da Mota, president of Eurojust, communicated yesterday (17 December) his resignation amid growing accusations concerning his involvement in the controversial ‘Freeport’ case in Portugal.
Lopes da Mota was elected president in 2007 and has been the body’s Portuguese representative since 2001. Before joining Eurojust, he was public prosecutor and deputy minister of justice (1996-1999) in Portugal.
Although no official reason for his resignation was communicated, observers assume that it is connected to a scandal which emerged in March 2009 in relation to the so called ‘Freeport’ case.
The case concerns the licensing of the construction of a big shopping mall when current Portuguse Prime Minister José Sócrates was minister of the environment (1999-2002). According to the accusations, which have not been confirmed so far, Sócrates was bribed to change the status of an environmentally-protected area into a building zone.
The company responsible for the construction was British and was denounced for fiscal fraud by the UK authorities. The latter also requested that relevant files be submitted by Portugal for the investigation. The two sides held an exchange of information earlier this year, under the Eurojust framework.
In March 2009, Portuguese public prosecutors claimed to have been pressured by Lopes de Mota to kill off the case and archive it. This version of events was strongly dismissed by the former Eurojust president and by the Portuguese government.
Lopes da Mota’s resignation came after the Portuguese Prosecuting Office (Ministério Público) had voted to suspend him from his magistrate functions for 30 days. According to Eurojust sources, the resignation of the president was “not in any way solicited by member states or other national representatives”.
According to the organisation’s rules, the longest-serving national Eurojust vice-president stands in for the president in case of absence or departure from the post. Until a new election is held – by secret ballot – the president’s functions will be carried out by Belgian Michèle Coninsx.