He is an advocate of climate change and renewable energies and has lectured on global energy policies at several other universities worldwide (Lisbon, Yale, Beijing, and Queensland). He was formerly an economist at the IMF, a Director-General of the Portuguese Treasury, and a top-management banker at the defunct Espírito Santo Financial Group that kept him on its payroll since 1994, including while he was away teaching at Columbia University.
In 2016, Manuel Pinho was referenced as having received 180,000 euros in offshore payments from a shell company for the Espírito Santo Financial Group
Pinho was born in Lisbon in 1954 and graduated from the Technical University of Lisbon in 1975. He completed his doctoral degree in economics at Université Paris X Nanterre in 1982, after which he became a professor at the Technical University of Lisbon and the Catholic University of Portugal; he has also been a visiting scholar at the New York University Stern School of Business. He left academia to work as an economist at the International Monetary Fund in Washington, D.C. from 1984-1988. He returned to Portugal in 1988 to become a management-level banker at the Portuguese subsidiaries of Manufacturers Hanover and Credit Lyonnais.
Between 1991 and 1994, Pinho was Director-General of the Portuguese Treasury and is credited with the reform of Portugal's public debt market. In that capacity, he held ex officio seats on the Portuguese Economic and Social Council, on the advisory board of the Lisbon Stock Exchange Commission, as chairman of Portugal's Public Credit Board, and represented Portugal at the European Investment Bank and at the European Monetary Committee. Pinho's tenure at the Treasury coincided with the second and final stage of the privatization of Banco Espírito Santo, which he joined right after he resigned from the Treasury in 1994.
Pinho was for 10 years a top operative of Portugal's defunct Espirito Santo Financial Group (ESFG) on whose payrolls he remained for most of 1994-2004. He was initially hired as the group’s head of research and quickly rose to become a full member of the Executive Board of Banco Espírito Santo in charge of key financial operations areas. He also quickly won the trust of one of the bank's senior shareholders and Espirito Santo family scion Ricardo Espírito Santo Salgado who would become the bank's next chairman and Pinho’s mentor in his family-controlled Espirito Santo Financial Group publicly saying in 2014 that Pinho was “a good financier” and had “delivered great services.”
As a result, when Pinho became minister in 2004, it was widely believed that it had been due to the influence of Salgado, who would publicly deny it a decade later. However, in 2004 Salgado hired Pinho’s second wife to oversee the bank’s newly started modern photography collection,) thus ensuring that Pinho remained bound to the ESFG while he was minister. Against this background, some of the decisions Pinho took as minister were criticized for benefiting ESFG, such as the sale of Portugália Airlines, the SONAE Group’s failed tender offer for Portugal Telecom where ESFG was the largest minority shareholder, or Pinho's dealings with EDP-Energias de Portugal that was chaired by another former ESFG top operative António Mexia.
After resigning from his minister position in 2009, Pinho was rehired by the ESFG as non-executive vice-president of its Banco Espírito Santo Africa subsidiary in what was later revealed to be a 39,000 euros per month in lieu of a pension that allowed Pinho to be away teaching in New York and elsewhere.
Pinho’s relationship with the ESFG soured in 2014, when he demanded early payment of his pension benefits in anticipation of the collapse of ESFG, which happened shortly afterwards. His pension withdrawal request was refused by the new management of Novo Banco, the entity that took over the ESFG, and, in 2015, Pinho sued Novo Banco and the former ESFG pension fund for 7.8 million euros consistent with his claim of a lifetime pension of 21,000 euros per month pension from age 65. In response, the Novo Banco cut his 39,000 euros per month BESA salary to 3,000 euros (2,000 euros according to other sources), which led Pinho to rescind his contract and file a second lawsuit to obtain compensation in line with the original salary amount. According to Pinho’s own court depositions, when he became minister in 2005 he had asked for an early retirement package from age 55, but, since the statutory age was 65, Salgado agreed instead to give Pinho the “no-show” job until he reached the applicable age. In 2016, Pinho lost the first lawsuit as the court rejected his argument that Salgado’s alleged arrangement established legal rights beyond applicable rules.
In 2016, Pinho was referenced in the Panama Papers leaks as having received 180,000 euros in offshore payments from a shell company for the ESFG.
Pinho entered government politics in the early 2000s when he started contributing to Portugal's opposition Socialist Party economic agenda for the 2005 legislative elections. In 2005 he was rewarded by Socialist Party President José Sócrates who allowed Manuel Pinho to run as an independent in the elections and placed him at the top of the Socialist Party list for the district of Aveiro thus ensuring his election.
Following the Socialist Party's victory in the elections, Sócrates became Prime Minister and invited Pinho to be Ministry of Economy and Innovation in the new government. As minister, Pinho attached priority to the full use of Portugal's existing renewable energy sources and development of new ones. During his term in office, Portugal’s installed capacity for wind-powered generation tripled from 1,000 to 3,000 MW and for solar-powered it increased from virtually nothing (3MW) to 60 MW. He also launched an electric car program that sought to make Portugal the first country in Europe with a nationwide charging network. In 2008, Pinho promoted an experimental sea-waves powered generation station, but it failed after three months.
As energy minister of a European Union member country, Pinho contributed to the European Union's Strategic Energy Technology Plan, a blueprint for European development of low-carbon energy production. For six months in 2007, while Portugal held the rotating presidency of the European Union, Pinho chaired the EU Council of Competitiveness Ministers and the Transatlantic Economic Council.
Pinho was much criticized for his dealings with EDP-Energias de Portugal and its chairman Antonio Mexia, whom had worked with at the ESFG. Pinho's decisions to grant high price guarantees to renewable energy generation and a 26-year hydropower buying monopoly to EDP-Energias de Portugal were deemed "excessive" by the subsequent government, “non-competitive and undervalued” by the European Commission that opened an official inquiry in 2013, and “contrary to the public interest” by the Portuguese Court of Audits in 2016.
Pinho, in a 2007 interview, described himself using the English expression “I’m the one they love to hate” referring to his critics. As Minister, he also became known for being prone to political gaffes that drew him plenty of press and social media coverage and ultimately led to his resignation.
On July 2, 2009, Pinho resigned as minister following an outburst in the Portuguese Parliament during the State of the Nation debate when he held his index fingers to his temples and mimicked a bull’s horns in a cuckolding gesture directed at a communist parliamentarian who heckled Pinho for personally delivering a 5,000 euros cheque from EDP-Energias de Portugal to the local football team during a visit to the town of Aljustrel. Facing outcries of disrespectful conduct, at first Pinho tried to keep his job and apologized indirectly, but he was forced to resign two hours later after meeting behind closed doors with his Cabinet colleague, the minister of Parliamentary Affairs. That same night, Pinho went on national TV to explain himself saying: "naturally I am sorry. I am an educated person." Portugal’s prime minister, Sócrates, also apologized “on behalf of the government” and Portugal’s president Anibal Cavaco Silva weighed in stating publicly that “institutional respect is a sacred principle of democracy.”
The TV footage of the cuckolding gesture immediately went viral making Pinho the subject of worldwide press coverage and countless Internet memes showing him self-applying horns to his own head.
Following the resignation, a group of workers of the Aljustrel Mines made a public statement to express their gratitude for Pinho's support and one year after his resignation, the new Mayor of Aljustrel named the town municipal park after Pinho. His name was also given to an avenue in the northern city of Paços de Ferreira. However, the local Aljustrel miners' union cheered Pinho's departure saying "its only drawback was not having happened sooner."
In 2010 Pinho began teaching a course on Global Energy Policy at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University following a "multi-year gift" from EDP-Energias de Portugal as disclosed by SIPA in its 2010, 2011, and 2012 Annual Reports.
This sponsorship generated much controversy in the Portuguese press that reported Manuel Pinho had arranged for the gift from EDP in an amount of 3 million euros while he was minister in charge of energy issues and dealt extensively with EDP-Energias de Portugal. According to the press, this raised issues of a major conflict of interest and political graft for Pinho and Mexia and of academic integrity for Columbia University in light of Pinho's perceived favouring of EDP-Energias de Portugal when he awarded it the 26 year hydro-electricity buying monopoly bypassing the regular public bidding procedures, in what subsequently would be considered by the European Commission and the Portuguese Court of Audits detrimental to the interests of the Portuguese treasury and electricity consumers.
Pinho has also been a FLAD visiting professor at Georgetown University (this time sponsored by FLAD, which stands for Portuguese-American Development Foundation), a senior fellow of the Jackson Institute, Yale University, director of the Lisbon University Institute's energy MBA, a guest professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, and a senior international adviser to Roland Berger Strategy Consultants.
Pinho is the father of three children from his 20-year first marriage to fashion entrepreneur Paula Serra that ended in divorce in the early 2000s. He remarried another divorcee Alexandra Fonseca with grown children of her own.
In a 2006 interview about his personal life, Pinho publicly acknowledged that he was an avid collector of photography and revealed that "after he returned from America" in 1988 he had a near death auto accident that has since limited his mobility. Pinho also revealed a passion for dancing when he said that, despite the accident, he "could still dance and loved to do it.” In another interview in 2005, he had revealed he was a lifelong supporter of Lisbon-based football team S.L. Benfica.