Portugal's PM right-hand man quits over malfeasance accusation

LISBON (Reuters) - Portuguese Socialist Prime Minister Antonio Costa's right-hand man, Miguel Alves, stepped down as secretary of state on Thursday after being formally accused of malfeasance.

Alves, the former mayor of the northern Portuguese municipality of Caminha, has been under investigation since 2019 but Costa named him as secretary of state assistant to the prime minister two months ago.

Critics have pointed a finger at Costa, who won an outright parliamentary majority in January this year, for appointing Alves at a time when he was already being investigated.

The country's public prosecutors said on Thursday they had formally charged him.

In a resignation letter sent to Costa, Alves said that given the accusation made by the public prosecutors he could no longer remain in government. Costa accepted the resignation and thanked him for taking on the role.

Alves said the accusation dated back to events that took place in 2015 and 2016 when he was the mayor of Caminha.

Publico newspaper reported the accusation was related to contracts he signed to allegedly favour a company owned by the wife of another Socialist mayor.

It is part of a wider investigation into corruption and abuse of power committed by local leaders and organisations.

According to Publico, the municipality of Caminha also allegedly paid 300,000 euros ($305,280.00) in rents in advance to build an exhibition centre while Alves was in power. The centre is yet to be built.

"I have a clear conscience," Alves in his resignation letter, adding he was "absolutely convinced of the legality of all (his) decisions".

($1 = 0.9827 euros)

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Sandra Maler)