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Former minister complains of "malicious, well-orchestrated attack" over Algarve oil concessions

moreiadasilvaThe former Minister for the Environment, Jorge Moreira da Silva, denies favouring Sousa Cintra and his company Portfuel when granting oil and gas concessions in the Algarve and has complained that he is the target of a "campaign polluted with lies."

The under pressure former politician denies giving any privilege at all to Portfuel despite the company having no background of track record in the oil business, no employees and none of the in-house expertise needed to operate an oil or gas business.

Jorge Moreira da Silva complains, in an opinion article published in today’s Diário de Notícias, of being the victim:

"I have been the target, three months ago, of a selective, malicious, well-orchestrated attack with no real opportunity to respond, concerning the authorisation of a contract proposed by the General Directorate for Energy and Geology (DGEG) with Portfuel.

“(This was) an administrative act based on agreed legislation from 1994. In June after 300 days of analysis by the DGEG and the Ministry, in the midst of hundreds of administrative acts, I authorised a contract for the geological mapping of resources - not drilling -  in Tavira and Aljezur, imposing environmental conditions more stringent than those placed on the 17 other contracts signed over the last 20 years by various governments," writes the former minister, the smugness he displayed in front of the committee of inquiry, now all but vanished.

By signing the contract, Jorge Moreira da Silva says, Portfuel "did not get the right to produce oil but only to do exploration and mapping studies. Everything else depends on the State's decision, with mandatory participation of citizens and local authorities. This contract is the same as the previous 17 signed in the last 20 years," the overwhelming majority under Socialist Party governments.

The former minister still denies that this agreement was been signed on the eve of the October 2015 elections, but on September 9th in "a normal act of daily management."

Silva is digging himself a deeper hole by insisting that the contracts are for exploration and mapping only; they are not. They are for exploration through to extraction with the stages along the way subject, ultimately,  to approval by politicians.

The concession holders would not have set out on their expensive geological mapping exercises unless they were assured, probably in secret clauses in the contracts, that there will be no public or State interference as they proceed to extracting oil or gas.

The Portfuel deal was highly controversial with a well know member of Portugal’s business elite, Sousa Cintra, sweeping up the underground rights to anything found under the Algarve's land using a new company set up for the purpose.

The concession rules required a three years trading results to be submitted and that the applicant at least has a background in oil and gas development and production. Portfuel should not have qualified but was the only company the government was dealing with in a process noted for its secrecy.

Moreira da Silva’s current explanations lack credibility and when the committee of inquiry has re-interviewed him, and has found out what pressure was brought to bear on the head of the General Directorate for Energy and Geology (DGEG) who notably changed his professional opinion about Portfuel’s suitability from a ‘no go’ to a green light in the space of three months, we may find that Jorge Moreira da Silva already has progressed past the height of his political career.

Set against Moreira da Silva’s protestations that he is being victimised, is the considered opinion from the Ministry of the Economy which today said that the exploration, research, development and production of oil contracts signed by the former Minister of the Environment did not have all the elements legally required.

"It should be noted very clearly that exploration, research, development and production of oil contracts signed by the former Minister Moreira da Silva did not have all the information legally required," clarified the secretary of State for Energy today in response to Moreira da Silva’s article complaining of "a campaign polluted by lies about oil exploration in the Algarve."

Last Wednesday, the president of the National Authority for the Fuel Market , Paulo Carmona admitted the existence of "situations difficult to accept" over the award of the contract to Portfuel, referring to "repeated delays" in the delivery of documents by the company owned by Sousa Cintra.

Contracts for the concession were signed on 25 September 2015 but even before April 28th, Moreira da Silva was saying that Portufuel met the technical, economic and financial requirements for companies applying for concessions which was before he had been assured that the technical and suitability issues were OK.

Jorge Moreira da Silva threw down a petulant challenge to the current administration, "if the government is so sure that the contract has not complied with the law, why not cancel it?”

The Secretary of State for Energy explained patiently that he has requested an opinion from the Attorney General's advisory board because he does not want to take further steps without ensuring the legality of cancelling the contracts.

It seems the 'campaign polluted by lies' may still be underway as Jorge Moreira da Silva struggles to adapt events to save his political career.

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