LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal’s prosecutor general said on Thursday it had shelved an accusation of financial impropriety against Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho from the 1990s because the statute of limitations had passed.
The prime minister himself asked the prosecutor’s office earlier this week to clarify media allegations that he received undeclared payments from a company while he was a member of parliament. Deputies are not allowed to accept outside income.
The prosecutor general said in a statement it had received an anonymous accusation in June about the prime minister’s links with the company Tecnoforma between 1997 and 2001. It opened an investigation into the accusation but subsequently shelved it.
“As any hypothetical criminal responsibility has passed due to the statute of limitations, the prosecutor general cannot legally proceed with the investigation with the aim of verifying the truthfulness of the accusation,” the prosecutor general said in a statement.
The daily Publico reported on Thursday that Passos Coelho may have violated parliamentary rules against outside income by taking payments from Tecnoforma to head a non-governmental organization.
Center-right Social Democrat leader Passos Coelho has governed Portugal since 2011, navigating harsh austerity measures introduced under the country’s 78-billion-euro bailout from the European Union and IMF. Lisbon exited the bailout in May.
He has nurtured a clean political image, including choosing at the start of his premiership to live in his own apartment rather than the official residence that comes with the post.
Cabinet Minister Luis Marques Guedes told journalists on Thursday the government would not comment on the matter and that it was not discussed in Thursday’s weekly government meeting.
Passos Coelho told reporters on Tuesday the prosecutor general should “clarify” whether there had been any legal wrongdoing and that he was ready to “face the consequences” if found at fault.
Antonio Barroso, senior vice president at the Teneo Intelligence consultancy in London, said Passos Coelho’s quick request for involvement by the prosecutor general “suggests the premier is probably confident about the outcome of the inquest.”
“Therefore, the potential for a political crisis that could lead to the fall of the prime minister remains limited at this stage,” Barroso said in a research note.
The allegations come in the same week that the opposition center-left Socialists are due to hold a primary to decide who will lead the party in a general election nine months away.
The primary takes place on Sunday between the current Socialist party leader Antonio Jose Segundo and Lisbon’s popular mayor Antonio Costa.
Additional reporting by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Tom Heneghan