Ecological vandalism, Vilamoura, Ricciardi's delusions and the Glossy ibis

Dear reader

A week of news and views from the Algarve…

Congratulations to the management of Vilamoura marina. This business has been voted the best international marina for the third year running.

But what of the wider Vilamoura development, re-launched after the site was purchased in 2015 by the US vulture fund, Lone Star?

More specifically, the land was bought at the knock down price of €200 million by Lone Star Real Estate Fund III, which set up Vilamoura World as the shiny new company whose task was to divide up the development site into 18 plots and sell them off to investors keen to enter the booming Portuguese tourism and residential markets.

The company boasted in 2015 that it would attract €1 billion of inbound investment but there have been no further announcements by Vilamoura World whose Chief Executive Paul Taylor quietly has been replaced by Juan Gomes-Vega. All may not be well…


Innocent as the driven snow, until found guilty as sin, Paulo Lalanda e Castro formally has been accused of rigging the bidding to ensure that the medical supply company Octapharma was a sole supplier of plasma to Portugal’s health service, costing the taxpayer hundreds of millions due to the extortionate prices paid for life-saving consignments.

The former Octapharma boss already has managed to persuade a German judge that he should be released after he was apprehended under a European Arrest Warrant.

The reason given, that Lalanda e Castro was already a defendant in Operation Marques and was quite used to turning up in Lisbon to give evidence, is one of the more creative reasons used to allow a defendant to walk free.

This liberty did not last long was and the businessman now is under house arrest with the added inconvenience of having to wear an electronic ankle bracelet.

Businessmen ripping-off other businessmen is one thing but the use of bribery and corruption to overcharge the State-run health service is pretty low behaviour by any standards.


Tainted by the same corruption probe is the former Health Minister, Paulo Macedo, who is accused of using his position to advance the career of Helena Lalanda e Castro to a more senior position at the State’s institute of medical emergency - INEM. Helena is Paulo Lalanda e Castro’s sister.

Paulo Campos, the former president of INEM, claims he was ‘leant on’ by the health minister to promote Helena.

This may end up as one man’s word against another’s but the allegation does Macedo no credit - why would Campos forge meeting notes, anyway?

Is there no area of public administration that is not riddled with corruption, influence peddling and bribery?


Eucalyptus plantations, love them or hate them, are part of Portugal’s rural landscape and contribute the raw materials for a buoyant pulp industry.

Detractors claim these monocultures destroy habitat and consume huge amounts of water, while pro-eucalyptus growers say the country needs more and can’t see the problem as if it wasn’t for theses trees, the countryside would just be scrubland.

So irritated is Paulo Fernandes of Altri, Portugal’s largest eucalyptus grower, that he has threatened to halt investment if Portugal “continues to demonise the eucalyptus tree.”

Fernandes picked a rather inept time to make this announcement as he had just signed the cheque to spend €125 million on expanding Altri’s pulp facilities, but his irritation during the ceremony in front of the prime minster was notable for its lack of manners.

“We do not agree with those who, sitting in offices and not knowing what a forest looks like, are limited to creating obstacles as if forestry somehow is taking advantage of society and the country,” was one of Fernandes’ milder comments.

The Altri boss tried to make himself out to be the saviour of Portugal’s otherwise abandoned hillsides but instead managed to show himself as blinkered and lacking in the sort of PR skills that even chief executives need these days.


Over to Spain, where the fuss over the Almaraz nuclear power station continues.

The plant is overdue for closure but the Spanish want to build a fuel dump on the site to ensure they get a few more years from the creaking power station.

Rather too late in the day, Portugal woke up to the fact that the plant in dangerous and the last thing needed is a fuel rod storage dump not too far up the river Tejo.

Portugal and Spain have reached no accord and Portugal has now ‘complained to Brussels,’ as if this will solve anything.

Meanwhile, the expansion of the plant is underway as Spain doesn’t really care what Portugal’s government thinks or does.


A second good example of Portugal’s lack of international experience is the case of the Iraqi ambassador’s twin sons, the prime suspects in the case of Ruben Cavaco who was beaten half to death in Pont de Sor, last August.

The wily Iraqi government has strung along Portugal’s foreign affairs minister with a series of delaying tactics, while the question of diplomatic immunity for the twins received widespread publicity.

Portugal failed to act, in fact the foreign minister gave the distinct impression that he wished the fuss would simply go away.

The Iraqi government, brimming with seasoned international tacticians, suddenly withdrew its ambassador to Portugal, thus transferring any court case to Baghdad where quietly it will be dropped.

There has been some unconvincing huffing and puffing from Lisbon but this is the best diplomatic result for both countries, especially now that the victim has accepted over €50,000 in compensation from the ambassador – no doubt part of the diplomatic deal.


Another violent act that hit the headlines was the beating dished out to football fan José Magalhães by the Public Security Police commander Filipe Silva during Benfica’s championship victory match against Guimarães in May 2015.

The brutal baton attack, caught on a camera and soon afterwards posted on social media, drew criticism from across the country and an internal police investigation was launched into the incident.

Twenty months later, it seems the police have closed ranks as, far from punishing this upholder of law and order, Silva’s bosses quietly have suspended the inquiry so as to enable Silva to be promoted.

Even before the 2015 incident, this notably violent officer has attacked other members of the public for unexplained reasons, the least we can demand is that the results of the internal inquiry are published.


Passos Coelho strikes a lonely figure these days. Once the head of the coalition government, he now courts the press in search of friends.

On a trip to the Algarve, where usually he came only to spend a heavily guarded summer holidays, Passos Coelho’s political amnesia was plain to see as he positioned himself as the anti-tolls hero of the region. Yes, Passos Coelho, the man who introduced tolls to the Algarve’s motorway and then went back on his promise to upgrade the EN125, now is firmly against this iniquitous scheme that charges motorists top rates to use the Via do Infante, “Suspend the tolls during roadworks, reduce them now – after all, the EU paid for most of the road.”

It remains one of life’s mysteries why former ministers remain in politics as many follow this decline into mental delusion, created perhaps by feelings of resentment and political impotence.


While laudably devolving many powers to local councils, the government included the power to reclassify ecological areas, the heavily protected REN land.

This is a huge mistake and needs urgent remedy as examples are now coming through that show councils are declassifying ecological land to enable the construction of tourist resorts.

The examples of Alcácer do Sal and Grândola councils reducing their ecological areas from 37% to 17% and from 46% to 11%, shows the driving force is for development, not the preservation of the countryside.

Grândola has 45 kilometres of pristine coastline which now offers "numerous and diversified potentialities,” according to the mayor.

We can expect the Algarve’s councils to follow the same pattern of releasing REN land for development, to the detriment of the countryside and of our green environment.

This builders’ charter needs to be halted before Portugal follows the example set by Spain along the overbuilt southern costas.


One area in Lagoa, used as a wetland wintering ground by thousands of birds, many of them endangered species such as the Glossy ibis, is being destroyed as the ground is cleared for what we suspect will be a new Continente supermarket.

Local ecologist James Watson was aghast when the diggers moved in and he determined to act, contacting environmental groups and the GNR’s wildlife protection unit.

Lagoa council has said nothing official but if indeed another supermarket is to be built on this land, despite the ideal Mestre Maco/World of Shoes site lying empty alongside the EN125, the mayor needs to say why this wetland site was authorised for development.

Lagoa already is Portugal’s supermarket capital, does Continente really need to destroy this natural area?


Last week, the Algarve was blessed by the presence of the Minister for Infrastructure and Planning, Pedro Marques, who came bearing tales of great joy.

The EN125 roadworks have been restarted, slowly and in patches, the airport refurbishment is on time and on budget – due to the fact that this project is nothing to do with his ministry, the Olhao bypass at last has been given the green light, the eastern EN125 roadworks have been scheduled and the Algarve’s railway is to be electrified.

The one area over which he stumbled was the rail link to the airport where Marques made it clear that this project is not really on his planning radar.

Citing various hurdles for this easy-to-build link, the minister’s concern over the damaging ecological affects this spur could have on the Ria Formosa was as touching as it was insincere.


On the Ria Formosa islands, disgust quickly turned to anger as yet more eviction and demolition letters arrived in last week’s post.

The welcomed assurances from the environment minister that each case would be dealt with on its own merits, that a plan would be developed to protect and nurture the islands and that there would be no more demolitions until everything was agreed after detailed consultation with the government, have turned out to be the same old political promises at a time when the public mood was one of horror at the treatment of the island villagers.

Sensing damage to his own position, the minister sacked the head of Polis Litoral Ria Formosa and gave more power to the local councils by providing additional seats on the Polis board.

So far, so good but whatever now has gone wrong needs urgent remedy. The opposition parties and the government’s left wing life support system all want to know why the islanders again have been duped.

The Communists were first to complain about these latest demolition notices and suggested that powerful development companies are behind the persecution of the islanders whom they want removed so that high class tourist developments can be constructed.

If this is the case, why not be honest as many families living on these islands would welcome the opportunity to live alongside tasteful developments, there is plenty of room for everyone, but it seems there will be no peace for as long as politicians are intent on meddling in the lives of ordinary people.


The most bizarre interview of 2017 took place last week. A cousin of the disgraced banker, Ricardo Salgado, has decided that he wants to rebuild the Espirito Santo brand name, more than this, José Maria Ricciardi wants to rebuild the entire Grupo Espirito Santo.

Ricciardi was the head of BES Investments and says he is terribly disappointed at the lies he was told and how let down he was by un-named people when the whole empire went bust in 2014.

The banker then stayed with his team when BES Investments was taken over by Haitong but was relieved of his post last year after he and the chairman, Hiroki Miyazato, did not see eye-to-eye on various matters - possibly including Ricciardi rigging the sale contest for the Comporta estate to ensure it remained in Espirito Santo family hands.

Ricciardi hasn’t spoken to his cousin Ricardo for some time, they don’t seem to get on too well these days, but now that he has some time on his hands, he wants to recreate a brand that has destroyed businesses, duped depositors, wiped out shareholder value, deceived its staff, lied to government and the media, cheated, corrupted and thieved.

So, good luck with that…


Until next week...


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