Algarve millionaire loses damages claim over cancelled oil contract
José de Sousa Cintra, the self-made millionaire who thought he would ‘have a go’ at the oil and gas business, has seen his €5 million claim against the State rejected in court.
The case revolved around Sintra’s bizarre activities after mysteriously being granted oil and exploration rights across most of the Algarve’s onshore territory. His company, Portufuel, broke so many rules that even the pro-oil socialist government was forced to suspend the company’s two concession contracts and called a halt to any further exploration activity.
Fonseca Furos, a company closely linked to Sousa Cintra, started drilling in a forest near Rogil, claimining this drilling was for water to irrigate sweet potatoes. This activity caused local concern due to the length of time spent drilling, the depth of the boreholes and the foaming waste products held in temporary ponds that then leaked into a local stream.
The tribunal has concluded that the decision by the State for Energy, Jorge Seguro Sanches, did not violate Portfuel’s rights as Portfuel had failed to follow the rules in not lodging a security deposit and not taking out the necessary insurance.
The court also rejected the claim by Portfuel that, as the work programme has been approved by the national fuels authority, ENMC, this gave Portfuel rights to carry on with the drilling despite not having insurance.
The Portfuel boss had obtained the two concession licenses, covering 14 of the region’s 16 municipalities, 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 during the confusion surrounding the end of the last government.
The Portfuel concession deal was approved by fuels authority boss Paulo Carmona and signed off by Environment Minister Jorge Moreira da Silva shortly before the Passos Coelho government was ousted, despite Portfuel clearly not qualifying under the concession rules.
Initially, Portfuel had been removed from the bidding process by Jorge Moreira da Silva but, three months later, he approved Portfuel as the sole concession holder for the two Algarve concession blocks. It remains a mystery as to what changed the minister’s mind.
Sousa Cintra said in 2016, on hearing his oil ambitions had been thwarted, that he had followed the rules and that anyway, he had got the deal on the say-so of high-up government figures so all would be resolved. The businessman declined to name names.
The Aljezur and Tavira oil and gas exploration blocks were signed away by Moreira da Silva with no environmental impact assessment and before a public consultation has taken place. Forced to hold a consultation in early 2016, Paulo Carmona introduced a series of patronising presentations from the company representatives who drew ridicule from a well informed public.
Sousa Cintra’s blatant trammelling of the rules and his subsequent lies about ‘sweet potatoes’ ensured the Algarve’s anti-oil and gas campaign received the catalyst needed to gain wide publicity.
The Algarve region’s mayors, through their association AMAL, joined the battle and lodged a legal action to halt Algarve oil and gas exploration, both onshore and offshore – for this we must thank Sousa Cintra for being just the pantomime villain needed to serve as a focus for the region’s environmental activism.
José de Sousa Cintra may well appeal the tribunal’s decision but each column each thus produced helps the environmentalists’ cause.