Eurojust chief steps down amid accusations

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. 

Portuguese MEP Regina Bastos, from the European People's Party (EPP), told EURACTIV that "the resignation of Lopes da Mota confirms the existing doubts over his involvement in the Freeport affair and sends a troubling signal to the incumbent government of Socrates".

Miguel PortasPotuguese MEP for the Group of the European United Left (GUE), speaking to EURACTIV stated that “Sócrates and his government have sustained Lopes da Mota beyond reasonable limits. The position of the latter, even within Portugal, was deeply enfeebled by the existing voices regarding his interference with the judiciary. As an opposition party we have not formally requested his resignation, but our call to integrity has been clear throughout. The resignation of Da Mota has been late, but inevitable. The decision of the Court, by 7 votes to 1, to suspend Da Mota gives credit to what has been ventilated in these months.”

Eurojust is a European body which aims to improve judicial cooperation in the areas of freedom, security and justice. 

Eurojust is made up of 27 national members, one from each EU country. These might be senior prosecutors, experienced judges or police officers appointed by their national ministries. 

Eurojust was officially established in February 2002 by Council Decision 2002/187/JHA. Its forerunner Pro-Eurojust, formally established in December 2000, was set up as a result of a decision taken at the Tampere European Council in October 1999. 

The growth in the powers of Eurojust - and their use by member states - since its creation has been considerable. International crime and networks have put pressure on member states to share information and best practices and to coordinate operations. 

In July 2008, the French EU Presidency introduced a number of measures to enhance Eurojust's operational effectiveness. 

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