Portuguese defence minister resigns over weapons theft scandal

EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET

Portugal's former Defence Minister Jose Alberto de Azeredo Lopes speaks to the media on the second day of the Nato Defence Ministers Council meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels, October 4, 2018.

Portuguese defence minister resigns over weapons theft scandal


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Portuguese Defence Minister Jose Azeredo Lopes resigned on October 13 over a weapons theft scandal that includes the theft of grenades, anti-tank rockets and other explosives, as well as ammunition from an army depot in June 2017, all of which were recovered four months later but without any arrests or suspects being named.

Portugal’s political opposition has accused the Socialist Party-led government of Prime Minister Antonio Costa of engaging in a major cover-up regarding the incident. An investigation is currently ongoing and has revealed that several career military officers were involved.

Costa has defended his defence minister for months but was forced to accept his resignation once further details of a possible cover-up were made public earlier in October. The incident has caused major questions to be asked about the quality and level of security at NATO-member Portugal’s military bases.

Investigators believe that the minister was aware of an alleged staged operation to recover the weapons last October, which Azeredo Lopes categorically denied on various occasions, including in his resignation letter where he also said he was stepping down to protect the armed forces from launching political attacks against him.

Azeredo Lopes previously called the suspected involvement of the military in the cover-up “an embarrassment”.

Portugal’s military police and the country’s investigators had initially suspected international arms traffickers and terrorist groups of having stolen the weapons and taken them out of the country, but
since most of the weapons cache has been recovered, prosecutors have since ordered the arrest of the head of the military police and several army officers.

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