The timing could hardly be worse. Aljezur mayor José Amarelinho – the leading voice against gas and oil exploration in local Algarve politics – has seen his name thrust back into the limelight for all the wrong reasons just as the country limbers up for municipal elections on October 1.
The issue dates back decades to a time when the former teacher was deputy mayor under previous council president Manuel Marreiros (now returned to public life and practicing law).
The duo was found guilty in 2012 by Lagos magistrates of “prevarication in the licensing of building works on the development of Vale da Telha between 1990 and 2008”.
In legal terms, prevarication involves “delaying, failing to practice or incorrectly practising an act of public office to satisfy personal interest or sentiment”.
Both men were condemned to jail terms – suspended if they paid compensation to environmental groups LPN and Almargem – and both were ordered to step down from public office, pending appeals, which were duly lodged.
Thanks to the mists that swirl through Portugal’s legal system, the case has ground on for seven years in which Amarelinho has taken over at the helm of the rural council battling to save its pristine coastline from being transformed into Portugal’s first drilling field.
The 47-year-old father of two is intent on running for a third and final mandate – though luck would have it that the case has suddenly resurfaced with the release of Évora’s Court of Appeal unfavourable ruling.
Rapidly being featured by national media, the bottom line is that Amarelinho is continuing the appeal process, and has no intention of stepping down.
He told Lusa last night: “I have already appealed to the Constitutional Court and an appeal to the Supreme Tribunal of Justice is being put together”.
According to DN, Évora judges ruled as proven that Amarelinho and Marreiros “licensed works on the Vale da Telha development without observance of the municipal plan” “acting with indifference before the law (…), taking advantage of their council powers, favouring the conditions in which they exercised their office and supporting their friends and backers”.
The new ruling “once passed, will have the effect of loss of mandate”, the ‘acordão’ states, says DN – but similar rulings have not deterred other mayors or councillors in the past.
DN stressed that Évora judges consider Amarelinho and Manuel Marreiros “acted in a way that went against the law” not only with regard to decisions about private licensing but in “not instituting legal proceedings for the violation of various rules relating to building”.
The question is can this long-drawn out case now be tidied away in time for Amarelinho to be voted back into his post as Mayor of Aljezur – a job thousands would attest to him doing with his heart and soul in the right place.