Doubt, uncertainty grip Portugal after ex-premier is jailed in fraud and corruption scandal

LISBON, Portugal – After he left office three years ago, former Portuguese Prime Minister Jose Socrates’ home address was a smart apartment in Paris’ classy 16th arrondissement.

On Tuesday, he spent his first day in prison after a Lisbon judge ordered him detained while the ex-leader fights accusations of corruption, money-laundering and tax fraud.

Socrates was reportedly taken to a prison in Evora, 130 kilometres (80 miles) southeast of Lisbon, after a judge decided late Monday there was sufficient police evidence to keep him in custody on preliminary charges of wrongdoing, a court statement said. Socrates’s lawyer, Joao Araujo, said his client denies the charges and would appeal the custody decision.

Under Portuguese law, the public prosecutor will now investigate further before presenting formal charges, a process that could take more than six months. A magistrate will then decide whether to put the 57-year-old Socrates, who is divorced and has two grown sons, on trial. The crimes carry a maximum sentence of 21 years.

The downfall of the former centre-left Socialist prime minister, who during his six years in power introduced abortion on demand and gay marriage in his mostly Roman Catholic country, stunned the Portuguese. Daily paper Diario de Noticias said in an editorial the episode was “traumatic” for Portugal.

The scandal discredited the country’s political class just as the frail economy is struggling to recover from the eurozone debt crisis, when Portugal needed a 78 billion-euro ($97 billion) bailout in 2011.

Before the scandal, the Socialist Party was predicted to comfortably win back power in next year’s elections. But its close association with Socrates could now taint the party and leave it at a disadvantage even though the centre-right coalition government, the Socialists’ main rival, has introduced deeply unpopular austerity measures designed to restore the country’s fiscal health.