Ministers forced to resign after daughter gains a place on elite course

October 17, 2003

Two senior members of the Portuguese government have resigned amid allegations that they abused their positions to secure a place at medical school for the foreign minister's daughter.

Diana Martins da Cruz was accepted to study medicine at the Universidade Nova de Lisboa despite not meeting the entrance requirements.

Earlier this month it emerged that higher education minister Pedro Lynce had extended a law that gives special privileges to the children of diplomats to include the daughter of foreign minister Ant"nio Martins da Cruz.

The law is designed to help those who have to finish their education abroad gain entry to university. But Ms Martins da Cruz finished her schooling in Portugal.

The scandal intensified as it emerged that Mr Lynce's chief personal adviser, Rui Trigoso, made two attempts in June to change the law to favour the minister's daughter.

Mr Trigoso was then offered a new post at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which is traditionally reserved for diplomats.

Mr Lynce resigned his post on October 3, soon after his actions came to light. Mr Martins da Cruz, a close friend of the Portuguese prime minister, denied he had ever spoken to his government colleague about the affair. But on October 7 he too resigned.

Constança Urbano de Sousa, a law lecturer at Lisbon's Autonomous University, said such conduct was typical: "Among our politicians, there is often a tendency for nepotism," she said.

Manuela Teixeira, president of trade union UGT, said that as a career diplomat, Mr Martins da Cruz was justified in asking whether the diplomatic regime applied to his daughter, but attempts to alter legislation were wrong. "Every father has the right to do the best for his child, but not by bending the law," she said.

Medicine is one of the hardest courses to get on to at Portuguese universities. At Nova, candidates need an entrance exam score of more than 18.15 points for medicine compared with 11 or 12 for engineering.

Maria Graça Carvalho has replaced Mr Lynce as higher education minister. Ms Martins da Cruz will continue her studies abroad.

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