Days after Portugal’s PM António Costa resigned amid a corruption investigation, police found €75,800 in cash in his chief of staff’s office, hidden between books and wine crates.
The cash, in Vítor Escária’s office in the prime minister’s official residence, was split between envelopes and hidden on different shelves between books and in the wine crates.
Escária claims the hidden money is for services in Angola that were paid for in cash, but his explanation raises a problem of tax fraud, says CNN Portugal journalist André Carvalho Ramos.
“Books are our greatest asset”, Susana Peralta, an associate professor at Nova School of Business and Economics, wrote ironically on X.
Another Lisbon resident wrote, “Let the first stone be cast by anyone who has never stashed 75,800 euros inside books and wine boxes! Isn’t this amazing?”
“The lawyer who can come up with a good explanation for this will deserve an Oscar for the most creative argument,” added Joao Villalobos, a communications consultant.
The searches took place Tuesday afternoon, at the time police arrested Escária.
Investigators did not seize any material in Escária’s office directly related to PM Costa.
They will continue to analyse digital evidence, including a digital agenda, e-mails, text messages and WhatsApp messages, in coming weeks.
Police investigators have released telephone transcripts appearing to incriminate senior officials in Costa’s administration.
Only when investigations have concluded will police be able to say if the money plays a role in the corruption allegations which caused António Costa to resign as prime minister on Tuesday.
Vítor Escária previously served as lead economic advisor under Costa and former Socialist Party PM José Sócrates.
An economist and university professor by background, Escária is not a household name but was an important figure within the Socialist Party of Portugal.
This is not Escária’s first brush with scandal. Previously he had his trip to Euro 2016, held in France, paid for by a company, Galp. He managed to avoid trial by paying a fine.
Before, while serving under José Sócrates, he testified in another corruption scandal,”Operation Marquês,” but was not accused of any crime.
A small quantity of hashish was seized at the home of Infrastructure Minister João Galamba, but it was within the legal value allowed for personal consumption, says Portuguese news outlet Público.
Police also seized Galamba’s mobile phones and computers.
The anti-corruption Department of Investigation and Criminal Action (DCIAP) has been investigating corruption in the lithium, hydrogen, and data centre sectors in Sines.
As well as Escaria, police arrested the Socialist Party mayor of Sines, two directors of the “Start Campus” company, and a lawyer and consultant working for the company.
They also named Galamba as a suspect, alongside Nuno Lacasta, chairman of the board of the Portuguese Environmental Agency.
Their lawyer is Diogo Lacerda Machado, a personal friend of Costa who served as witness at his wedding, Renascença reports.
Machado also served as Secretary of State for Justice from 1999 to 2002, during António Costa’s tenure as Minister of Justice in António Guterres’s government.
In recent years, Machado has informally represented the PM in sensitive negotiations, including with Portugal’s airline TAP, the Espírito Santo Group, and in meetings between Isabel dos Santos and the Catalan CaixaBank.
The two arrested businessmen from “Start Campus” are Afonso Salema, its executive chairman, and Rui de Oliveira Neves, its legal and sustainability director.
Between 2013 and 2021, Neves held management positions at Galp.