By Andrei Khalip
LISBON, Jan 28 : Portuguese police have searched the finance ministry in a raid local media said targeted finance chief Mario Centeno, who heads the Eurogroup of euro zone finance ministers, over tickets he allegedly received from his favourite football club, Benfica.
The prosecutor’s office confirmed Friday’s searches at the ministry but said nobody had been accused of any crime in the investigation, which is covered by the law on judicial secrecy.
It did not make any reference to Centeno, who on Jan. 13 became the chairman of the euro zone finance ministers group.
A finance ministry spokeswoman said the ministry was collaborating with the investigation but could not provide more details due to legal confidentiality rules.
Centeno was not immediately available for comment but the finance ministry has previously denied any wrongdoing by the finance minister regarding the Lisbon club.
The online version of the weekly newspaper Expresso, citing an unnamed source, said on Sunday that the investigation focused on Benfica President Luis Vieira’s alleged role in obtaining a property tax break for his son and an alleged request by Centeno last year for tickets to a Benfica-Porto game.
The ministry has denied any contact between Centeno and Vieira over the tax situation regarding Vieira’s son, and dismissed any suggestion of government interference in the case. It said property tax exemptions were handled by the municipal authorities.
Vieira was not immediately available for comment and nobody was available for comment at the Vieira family real estate development company Promovalor where his son Tiago works.
The Finance Ministry acknowledges Centeno obtained two special access tickets to the Benfica game last April but says they were required for security reasons. The tickets did not breach rules for government officials on accepting gifts of up to 150 euros ($186) because they cannot be bought or sold, it said.
Prime Minister Antonio Costa has dismissed the tickets case as having “no controversy whatsoever”.
Harvard-trained Centeno has won plaudits for leading Portugal through a strong recovery in the last two years from a 2011-14 debt crisis and a euro zone bailout programme. The economy is growing at its fastest pace in at least 10 years and the budget deficit is set to fall to its lowest in decades.