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José Sócrates studied in Covilhã's basic and secondary schools, until the age of 18. Then, in 1975, he went to Coimbra in order to attend a higher education institution. He earned in 1979 his 4-year bacharelato degree as a civil technical engineer from the Instituto Superior de Engenharia de Coimbra (established in 1974 and later incorporated into the Instituto Politécnico de Coimbra in 1988).
In March 2007, Universidade Independente (UnI), a private university in Lisbon, was placed under investigation for alleged irregularities on several matters.
In that same month, Sócrates' licenciatura degree in civil engineering by Universidade Independente was put under enormous public scrutiny. Journalists found that qualifications awarded did not follow procedure and that four of the five academic disciplines were given in the private university by the same professor, António José Moraes, a socialist government appointee. A fifth academic discipline, "technical English" was given by the Independente's rector. A strong case was built up related to possible false declarations by José Sócrates regarding his university degree, and the way he was awarded this degree in civil engineering. Among other issues, the Independente degree in civil engineering was not an accredited degree, a civil engineering department was not yet established at that university, one examination was sent by fax and Sócrates' diploma was issued on a Sunday, a day on which the university was always closed.
Some Portuguese news media professionals stated that Sócrates or members of his staff, through phone calls, threatened court action against journalists and tried to stop the reportings on his licenciatura degree awarded by UnI. On 9 April 2007, Universidade Independente was closed by government officials after an investigation reported several serious irregularities in the running of this private university.
Under heavy pressure, Sócrates provided his version of the facts on Wednesday 11 April 2007 in a live broadcast interview for the RTP 1 TV channel and RDP radio. The Prime Minister stated he was not favoured by the Universidade Independente to obtain the degree, declared he had been the target of "catty accusations", and defended the authenticity of the degree, though admitting he is not a fully chartered civil engineer. In his official biography at the Portuguese Government's official website Sócrates claimed to have already obtained the qualification of engineer. He later admitted that this was a "lapse", and the government website altered his CV, downgrading "civil engineer" to "diploma in civil engineering". In the interest of accuracy, he should have used "licenciado em engenharia civil" instead of "engenheiro". Before he had been granted the degree, he presented himself as an "engineer" when he was solely a "technical engineer". Portuguese Parliament documents with official information on Sócrates personal data were found proving such inconsistencies. Sócrates and his staff replied to this by stating that it was probably a misunderstanding in the parliamentary services. After having the licenciatura diploma he used the title "engineer" in several official documents, despite the fact that his unaccredited degree in civil engineering from Universidade Independente was not legally recognized to allow for the use of the title "engineer"; a profession which is regulated in Portugal by the Ordem dos Engenheiros.
José Sócrates was fiercely criticised by members of Portugal's democratic opposition in the Parliament regarding both proved and unproven issues related with this controversy. Nicolau Santos, a television journalist and a director of Expresso newspaper, criticised the controversial series of fait-divers published in Público and claimed that despite the extensive coverage of details, Público's investigation lead to "no definitive conclusion" and might be connected with other issues. In the same tone, several other media personalities, like SIC Notícias' journalist Ricardo Costa, also suggested controversially that SONAE corporation, the parent company of Público newspaper, was behind the beginning of the controversy due to a failed takeover bid of SONAE's telecommunications operator over the largest Portuguese telecom – Portugal Telecom. The complexity of the takeover bid involving the largest Portuguese telecom, prompted State intervention by the Autoridade da Concorrência (The Portuguese Competition Authority).
It was found that a close friend of Sócrates, Armando Vara, was also awarded a diploma by the Universidade Independente days before he was appointed to a high ranking banking administration position in the state-run Caixa Geral de Depósitos, which in turn was strictly opened to candidates holding at last one academic degree in any subject.
State authorities investigated the affair and archived the file on the grounds that the suspicions of falsification and irregularities allegedly attributed to José Sócrates turned out to be formally impossible to prove. On the other hand, the Universidade Independente was investigated by education state authorities in 2007, which resulted in the compulsory closing of that private university due to lack of academic rigour and teaching quality, along with generalized managerial and financial chaos in the institution.
On 17 August 2007, a new controversy arose after the discovery that a government computer had been used to remove all the references to the Sócrates-Independente affair from the English Wikipedia. The specific government computer is only one among several dozen included in the IP range of the computer services of the state.
A low-cost Intel Classmate PC-based netbook for use by children, announced and sponsored by Sócrates' cabinet, named Magalhães (after Fernão de Magalhães), assembled by the Portuguese company J.P. Sá Couto, was at the centre of a controversy on 7 October 2008, when the company was suspected of €5 million worth of tax evasion. J.P. Sá Couto dismissed all the accusations regarding alleged fiscal fraud within the company. Other major controversy regarding Magalhães computer were the legal issues about public contracting procedure in the agreement involving the Government and the company J.P. Sá Couto. The case led to an investigation that raised other similar issues involving other governmental agreements and public contracts.
Use of foreign languages
Sócrates was criticised for his low proficiency in both Spanish and English. An article published in Expresso accused him of blending Portuguese and Spanish expressions with a Spanish accent in an official meeting in Madrid, instead of speaking his mother tongue, or at least trying to learn and use proper Spanish.
Freeport outlet controversy
Since 2005, and, especially again in 2009, it was suggested by some Portuguese and British media that José Sócrates allegedly waived environmental restrictions, following intervention by one of his uncles and a cousin, to grant the British company Freeport a licence to build the Alcochete mall, a gigantic emporium near the Tagus river, developed in part on protected land outside Lisbon in 2002, when he was Minister for Environment of the PM António Guterres cabinet. Portuguese authorities have meanwhile insisted José Sócrates was not under investigation, nor was he a suspect, while UK's Serious Fraud Office refused to confirm the veracity of reports emanating in Portugal. José Sócrates also stated the Freeport project was in due compliance with all legal requirements at the time. Júlio Eduardo Coelho Monteiro, a businessman who is an uncle of José Sócrates, told the Portuguese newspaper Sol how he established contact between his nephew and Freeport's representatives.
In a DVD held by the British police and released in March 2009 by the Portuguese media, Charles Smith, a consultant hired to handle the licensing of the Freeport of Alcochete, clearly stated that José Sócrates "was corrupt" and that he received, through a cousin, money to give the green light to the project for the "outlet". The recording revealed by TVI is only part of a conversation of 20 minutes that alongside Charles Smith also included John Cabral, an official of the consultant, and Alan Perkins, director of Freeport. It was the latter who, without knowledge of the other two, has recorded the event, where Smith and Cabral were questioned about the money that left the company to be used for the payment of "gloves" to the current Prime Minister. Charles Smith is one of two defendants in the case Freeport, commercial space on the process of Freeport Alcochete, related to alleged suspicions of corruption in the amendment to the Special Protection Area of the Tagus estuary (ZPET) decided three days before the elections of 2002, through a decree-law, when José Sócrates was Minister of Environment.
The conversation now revealed took place in 2006 with the aim of explaining the large outgoing amounts of money from the company's headquarters in London at the time of approval of the project. According to some sources contacted in London by TVI, José Sócrates remains the main suspect of British police. The British police are now set to send to the Portuguese authorities the 25 volumes of all research done in this process in England. The Serious Fraud Office, which investigates major financial fraud in Britain, has seen its activity limited due to the lack cooperation of the Portuguese authorities in investigating the case. The first official meeting took place only on 17 November 2008 in The Hague, the headquarters of Eurojust, a body which is designed to facilitate judicial cooperation in the EU. The judge Cândida Almeida, director of DCIAP (Central Department for investigation and prosecution), which coordinates the department's prosecutor who investigates the case, refused a joint research proposal by the English. Then have taken note of the DVD. The prosecutor dropped the evidence, arguing that it was not in Portuguese law.
The Eurojust tried to distance itself from the scandal involving its head, José da Mota, a Portuguese, who allegedly put pressure on prosecutors in order to stop a corruption probe involving Portuguese Prime Minister José Sócrates. Two magistrates dealing with the so-called Freeport affair accused José Mota of having tried to persuade them to side-line the investigation at the request of the Portuguese premier and the minister of justice. The premier and Mr Mota's relationship goes back to the late nineties, when they worked in the same government as state secretaries for environment and justice respectively. In 2002, when the new EU body was formed (Eurojust), Mr Mota was transferred to The Hague as Portugal's representative to Eurojust. He was elected head of the judicial co-operation body in 2007, at a time when the so-called Freeport case had already started in Portugal.
On 22 May 2012, Alan Perkins, a Freeport manager between 2005 and 2006, said, under oath in court, that illegal payments had been made to the minister of the Environment. At the time, the minister of the Environment was José Sócrates.
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