The debate – in which a judge oversees an oral, adversarial discussion between the prosecution and defence before determining whether the case should go to trial, formally ending the investigation phase – was originally for the end of January.

According to the same source, the debate will now take place on 4, 5, 6 and 9 March; if necessary, it could carry on through 11, 12 and 13 March.

Ivo Rosa, the judge at the Central Court of Criminal Instruction (TCIC) who is overseeing this phase, said that the postponement was necessary because due diligence has not yet been complied with in the case.

Some of the missing steps relate to requests made by the defence and also with documents that had been requested from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In notifying the parties of the postponement, the judge states that the "lack of reasonable time" for those involved in the case to comment on the documents to be examined also prompted the postponement.

The questioning of witnesses in the case was completed last Wednesday, except for José Pinto de Sousa, a cousin of Sócrates, who is to be questioned on 21 January.

The Operation Marquês case, in which Socrates is among the 28 accused, began more than five years ago. In all, the accused are charged with 188 counts of economic and financial crimes.