Portfuel, the company owned by Algarve millionaire Sousa Cintra, has little chance of winning its legal challenge to recover costs after the government acted to cancel its two onshore oil and gas exploration and extraction licenses.
The pugnacious Portfuel boss obtained the concession licenses under highly suspicious circumstances as his newly formed company lacked the necessary three year trading and safety record, was the only bidder and was handed the concessions on a plate.
The Portfuel deal was approved by Fuels Authority boss Paulo Carmona and signed off by Environment Minister Jorge Moreira da Silva shortly before the end of the last government despite Portfuel clearly not qualifying under the concession rules.
Initially, Portfuel was removed from the bidding process by Jorge Moreira da Silva who, three months later, then approved Portfuel as the sole concession holder for the Algarve blocks. It remains a mystery as to what changed the minister's mind.
On hearing that his two Algarve concessions were to be rescinded, Sousa Cintra said he had followed the rules and that anyway, he had been awarded the deal on the say-so of mysterious, high-up government figures, although he has not yet named those who gave him the nod.
The Attorney General’s remarks today should leave Sousa Cintra in no doubt as to the shaky legal ground he is standing on. The possibility of compensation for Portfuel’s exploration expenditure now is more unlikely than ever.
The Aljezur and Tavira oil and gas exploration blocks were signed away by Moreira da Silva with no prior environmental impact assessment and before any public consultation has taken place. Forced to hold a consultation in early 2016, Carmona had trouble in controlling his intense irritation that the great unwashed were questioning his authority and introduced a series of patronising presentations from the oil company representatives present.
When the public found out the Portfuel concession areas covered most of the Algarve region, rather than areas local to Aljezur and Tavira as was imagined by the local names deliberately chosen, the anti-oil and gas fight started in earnest and soon received the total support of the region’s mayors through their association AMAL which has lodged a legal action to halt Algarve oil and gas exploration onshore and offshore.
The Attorney General’s Office stinging assessment of Portfuel’s behaviour to date makes it clear that with such a litany of contractual violations, Portfuel might well be wasting more money and time by going to court in an attempt to recover costs.
Fonseca Furos, a company closely linked to Sousa Cintra, started drilling in a forested area near Rogil, ostensibly for water to irrigate sweet potatoes, and caused local concern due to the length of time spent drilling, the depth of the boreholes drilled and the waste products held in temporary ponds and flowing into a local stream.
Public complaints ensured the authorities stopped all work at the site. This event showed two things: that Sousa Cintra is a stranger to the truth and that public opposition to illegal activities (drilling for anything other than water was not licensed at Rogil) can have good effect.
Sousa Cintra is part of the old school of Portuguese businessmen, many of whom now are filtering through the Portuguese court system as corruption and backhanders are uncovered by an increasingly empowered population, an inquisitive press and experienced associations.