Data Center Caught Up in Corruption Probe

Nov. 16, 2023
Two executives of a data center under construction in Portugal were arrested, resigned their positions despite maintaining innocence, then had charges dropped. The case is ongoing.

A hyperscale data center under construction in Portugal has been caught up in an investigation of corruption by the Portuguese government. That investigation has led to the arrest and resignation of two data center executives, the arrest of government officials, and the resignation of Portugal’s prime minister. Within days, a judge dropped corruption charges against all five who had been arrested, but not before the two data center executives resigned their positions.

Afonso Salema had been CEO and Rui Oliveira Neves had been chief legal and sustainability officer of Start Campus, developer of a hyperscale data center in the Portuguese town of Sines, prior to their arrests and resignations. Salema and Oliveira Neves were among five arrested on charges related to corruption and bribery. Reuters’ Catarina Demony has reported on the ongoing situation multiple times, including reporting the accused have been released and some charges dropped.

The probe led to the resignation of Portugal’s prime minister, Antonio Costa, who maintained his innocence. Reuters reporting indicates the corruption probe is focused on the Stines data center project as well as lithium mining and green-hydrogen production projects.

Start Campus describes its Stines project as “a hyperscale data center campus with a capacity of up to 495 MW—an investment of up to €3.5 billion. It will be one of the largest data center campuses in Europe and meets the growing demand from large international technology companies,” adding that the project “will benefit from all the strategic advantages such as sea water cooling systems, access to the high-voltage electrical grid, connectivity through the connection to high-capacity international networks of fiber-optic cables with Europe, Americas, and Africa.” Start Campus emphasizes that the project “will be one of the largest data center ecosystems with 100% green energy at competitive prices in a premium location in Europe.”

After the resignations of Salema and Oliveira Neves, Start Campus named Robert Dunn interim CEO. He joined Start Campus in April 2022 as head of design and delivery, a role in which he has overseen all aspects of the Sines project. “In his new capacity, he will continue supporting his team to ensure the project can reach its soon-to-be operational phase,” the company said when announcing Dunn’s appointment.

The company added, “Start Campus strives for the highest standards in all areas of business and in every stage of the project in Sines. The company remains committed to its operations and investment in Portugal. It is taking all necessary measures to ensure business continuity and that its team, customers, and business partners continue to receive the same level of high-quality service. Start Campus continues to fully cooperate with the Portuguese authorities and provide all requested information to ensure a thorough and impartial investigation of all facts.”

Start Campus is owned by U.S.-based Davidson Kempner Capital Management LP and U.K.-based Pioneer Point Partners LLP.

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