Portuguese environmental organisation, ZERO, wants to halt the sale of the Herdade da Comporta Estate, once referred to as the 'Jewel in the Crown' of the Espírito Santo clan and take its 12,500 hectares into State ownership.
The directors of the fund that manages Herdade da Comporta is scheduled to meet on July 27th to look at current offers for the estate but ZERO has expressed serious doubts about any hasty sale of the property.
The association says that due consideration should be given to the natural heritage of the area, on the coast below Setúbal and that an overdue Comporta-Galé Site Management Plan should be submitted as this is a mandatory document under national and European legislation for any Natura 2000 zone.
ZERO says that the State should halt the sale until the finalisation of this plan which is the responsibility of the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forests, as taxpayers are the major creditor of the bust business and may lose out during the fiscal machinations involved a developer buildings villas, hotels and leisure facilities and selling them off.
The dunes and vegetation, from the sea to the interior, is an important habitat that needs international protection and does not need an avaricious property company turning the natural area into yet another five star tourist resort.
The main creditor of the Special Fund of Closed Real Estate Investment (FEIIF) that manages the real estate assets of Herdade da Comporta, is the State-owned, Caixa Geral de Depósitos, aka, Portuguese taxpayers.
A far better idea, says ZERO, is to fold Herdade da Comporta in the Companhia das Lezírias, a successful and profitable landowning business that already is owned by the State.
"This option is the only one that guarantees an end to the appalling development of parts of the Alentejo coastline, in particular the creation of Tourism Development Areas that fail to safeguard protected natural heritage. State ownership also will stop a return to real estate speculation as a new buyer will focus on the short-term recovery of capital," says ZERO.
ZERO not only wants a more sustainable use of Herdade da Comporta, "in tune with its spectacular natural assets, rather than a high-impact tourist-real estate development similar to other authorised on the Alentejo coast between Tróia and Sines which only have been on-hold due to the recession."
There exists a unique opportunity "to increase public assets with the public purchase of the two Comporta companies that control the estate, Herdade da Comporta FEIIF, the real estate investment fund that manages tourism projects and Herdade da Comporta - Agrosilvícolas and Turísticas, which manages agricultural and forestry activities," advises ZERO.
Herdade da Comporta then can be joined to the Companhia das Lezírias*, an already profitable farming business that contributes to the Treasury, rather than receiving government support.
ZERO correctly notes that Herdade da Comporta once was part of the, then, Companhia das Lezírias do Tejo and Sado, until this was sold to the British-owned, ‘Atlantic Company, Ltd.’ in 1925.
In 1955, Herdade da Comporta was hived off and sold to the Espírito Santo family which, two decades later in 1975, saw it nationalised.
Between 1989 and 1991 the Espírito Santo family regained control of the 12,500 hectare estate which later was dragged into debt and uncertainty when the Espírito Santo property company, Rioforte, went bust in 2014 along with the entire Grupo Espírito Santo, under Ricardo Salgado.
The result of the Espírito Santo period of 'management' has been the illegal construction of around 100 buildings that suit their well-heeled owners but have been built in contravention of planning plaws, not that this has troubled the local Councils and regional development commission - this was an estate owned by 'the Clan, after all.
As for the current beauty parade of suitors wishing to buy Herdade da Comporta FEIIF, this company is worthless unless the agricultural company is bought at the same time, suggesting a back room deal already has been done with the two Espírito Santo clan members, brothers Caetano and Carloto Beirão da Veiga, who maintained management control Herdade da Comporta - Agrosilvícolas and Turísticas.
Carloto Beirão da Veiga has a holiday home on the estate, owned by his company LARCA. The buildings and pool, according to an audit by the Inspectorate-General for Agriculture, the Environment and Spatial Planning (IGAMAOT), should never have been licensed under current laws.
One source close to events commented that, "the family, that is to say Carlotto and Caetano, are always looking for a deal where they get well compensated in return for cooperating with whomever buys the Comporta fund."
“That is why they have tried so hard to choose who owns the fund and to maintain ownership of the agricultural company. I would guess there is a side deal as that has always been their objective and one can get away with criminality in Portugal as we have seen in the case of Ricardo Salgado,” commented the reliable source.
The putative buyers for the 12,500 hectare estate are, a French ‘Prince,’ the richest woman in Portugal, a highly controversial British businessman and the family that controls the Portugália restaurant chain - with the British businessman, Mark Holyoake and his co-investors, the odds-on favourites.
Holyoake was involved in litigation against property developers, Nick and Christian Candy, a court affair in which each of the parties, “has been shown to have been willing to lie when they consider their commercial interests justify them doing so” according to Justice Nugee's summing up in December 2017.
A former bidder for Comporta, Asher Edelman, in conjunction with the Armory Merchant property giant in the US, commented on the current situation,
“I am deeply saddened by the demise of Comporta and, most of all, by the lack of regards for the person who did the most to preserve and create the total environment, Vera Espírito Santo Iachia.
“Vera brought me in to save the Comporta she created. With her death she is forgotten, no longer the creature force behind the projects, its architecture and lifestyle. The managers are selling down the river all that made Comporta what is was. It will fail as a honky-tonk destination and all of us who loved it will not come back - the new bees will live on cotton candy.”
Edelman offers help, with the benefit of a knowledge of the history of Comporta, the undue influence over the bid selection process form Haitong Bank's José Maria Ricciardi and the duplicitous activities of bidder Pedro de Almeida from Ardma Imobiliária, added that,
"If there is anything I can do to aid any approach that does not destroy the integrity of Comporta I stand ready to do so. Our plans were modest and sound from a preservation point of view. A purchase of the agriculture company, which I stand ready to effect, could be the enforcing factor in keeping Comporta safe."
The Comporta property investment fund owes Caixa Geral do Depósitos €113 million and none of the current bids involve writing a cheque out to the bank for this amount.
State ownership could be in the form of a debt for equity swap, or variation thereof, with the estate run ‘as is’ without the need to divide up the land and sell off plots for villas, hotels and apartments, simply in order to repay the money used to buy control.
The nearby estate, run by Companhia das Lezírias,* has as its mission 'the estate’s economic sustainability and a policy to prevent urbanisation from spreading.'
This sounds like a breath of fresh air along the Alentejo coastline as opposed to unnecessary tourist development at one of Portugal's truly outstanding estates.
Should the estate remain an idylic natural area along a sun-kissed coastline, truly one of Portugal's most beautiful places, or become a tourist zone of five hotels, two apart-hotels, 11 tourist villages, six residential complexes and two more golf courses...?
Sadly, those in a position to decide are driven by avarice after a lifetime of corrupt practices as members of the Espírito Santo clan.
Sept 5th, 2018
There is a petition set up by Comporta.Utopia - cick HERE
* The Companhia das Lezírias (Lezírias Company) or CL for short (the only two letters in the company logotype), is a state-run agriculture and forestry company located in the Lezíria do Tejo subregion, and headquartered in Samora Correia, Benavente municipality, Portugal. It was founded in the 19th century by the Portuguese Crown.
The company is an ecological sanctuary and periurban farming area, near Grande Lisboa subregion - the most populated sub-region of Portugal. The company produces rice, wine, cork, and livestock, as well as being a reputed horse breeder. In addition to its farming, forestry, and animal production activities, the Companhia das Lezírias has organised top equestrian events.
The Lezírias Company was founded in 1836 when the Portuguese Crown sold properties located near the capital city, Lisbon. It comprised 48,000 hectares of land located between the Tagus and Sado Rivers. This property was reduced to less than half by global crises such as the Great Depression and the World Wars, as well as local climatic, seismic catastrophes and political turmoil which led to extensive land transaction.
Nevertheless, the company was an important infrastructure for Portuguese agriculture throughout history, its modernity and technological developments in animal and vegetable farming as in forestry were always noted in the country. After 138 years, the Lezírias Company was nationalized, hence returning to public ownership status. The enterprise's economic sustainability and the policy to prevent urbanization from spreading there are the main tasks of its current administrations.