Portugal Premier’s Former Aide to Be Released, Court Says

(Bloomberg) -- Vitor Escaria, a former chief of staff to Portugal’s prime minister, will be released from custody after being held for six days as part of a probe into alleged government corruption and influence peddling.

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The decision was announced by a judge in Lisbon on Monday, according to a statement from the court. Escaria, who won’t be able to leave the country, was among five people detained last week after police raided homes and government offices in an investigation related to lithium exploration concessions, a hydrogen project and a data-center venture called Start Campus.

The other four people detained will also be released, the statement said. Among those is Diogo Lacerda Machado, a lawyer whom Prime Minister Antonio Costa once called his best friend who worked as a consultant for Start Campus. He will be freed on €150,000 ($160,430) bail and also won’t be able to leave the country.

The court found facts that may constitute one crime of influence peddling by Lacerda Machado and Escaria, according to the statement.

The corruption probe rocked the nation of 10 million when it erupted last week. Costa, a Socialist who has led Portugal since 2015, quit just hours after his chief of staff was detained and President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa called an election for March 10. Costa dismissed Escaria after finding out that police had seized envelopes with large quantities of cash in his aide’s office.

The Prosecutor-General’s Office said that references made by suspects about Costa’s intervention to “unblock” certain procedures will be separately analyzed in an inquiry at the Supreme Court of Justice.

Prosecutors also listed Infrastructure Minister Joao Galamba as an “arguido,” a status similar to a person of interest. Galamba, who was involved in the planned privatization of state-owned airline TAP SA, announced his resignation earlier Monday.

Costa said in a televised press conference in Lisbon late Saturday that he is unlikely to hold public office again. The 62-year-old has said that his conscience is clear and has offered to cooperate fully with authorities.

--With assistance from Kevin Whitelaw.

(Adds with details throughout with court statement)

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