November 23, 2014 / 10:24 PM / 3 years ago

Portugal ex-PM Socrates still in custody, more questioning Monday

Portugal's former prime minister Jose Socrates arrives at Lisbon Court escorted by police for questioning, in Lisbon November 22, 2014. REUTERS/Hugo Correia

LISBON (Reuters) - Police transferred Portugal’s former Socialist prime minister Jose Socrates back to his cell at a police station late on Sunday where he will spend a third night in a row after his shocking arrest and questioning in a corruption investigation.

Criminal judge Carlos Alexandre interrogated Socrates, 57, on Saturday and Sunday as part of an inquiry into suspected tax fraud, corruption and money-laundering, and the questioning will continue on Monday, Socrates’ lawyer Joao Araujo told reporters.

“He’s fine, better than I am. He’s in good spirits,” a visibly tired Araujo said, declining to say whether Socrates had been charged with any crime or admitted to any wrongdoing. The crime of corruption carries a prison term of up to eight years.

Socrates was questioned at the modern Justice Campus in Lisbon inaugurated by him as prime minister in 2009.

The detention, the first involving a former premier in Portugal under democracy, followed arrests of other high-ranking officials or prominent people in separate inquiries in the past few months as prosecutors intensify a fight against corruption in a country notorious for its slow justice system.

It was not clear if the inquiry, known as “Operation Marquis”, was linked to Socrates’ time as premier in 2005-2011.

Police arrested Socrates, 57, at Lisbon airport late on Friday as he arrived from Paris. Three other individuals linked to Socrates were also arrested.

Socrates resigned as prime minister in the middle of his second four-year term in 2011 as an escalating debt crisis forced him to request an international bailout, which imposed painful austerity on Portugal.

Socialist leader Antonio Costa, whose opposition centre-left party leads in opinion polls ahead of next year’s general election, has said the party was “shocked” by the detention.

Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho, who came to power in 2011 and heads the center-right ruling coalition government, said on Sunday the case was “anything but trivial”, but added that it was not a political issue and declined further comment.

After stepping down, Socrates left for Paris, where he attended a university course. He returned in 2013 to become a regular commentator on RTP state television.

During his premiership, Socrates weathered several investigations, including allegations that he misused his post as environment minister in 2002 to allow the construction of a shopping mall. He denied wrongdoing and faced no formal charges.

Prosecutors are investigating several prominent people in separate corruption and fraud cases, including the head of the country’s immigration service, who was arrested last week on suspicions of corruption linked to the issuing of so-called “golden visas” to wealthy foreign investors.

Editing by Eric Walsh

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