Douro Azul media mogul loses latest round in defamation pursuit

Court of Appeal upholds Ana Gomes’ “whiff of corruption” comments

… and letter rogatory* sent to Greece

Ana Gomes, former MEP/ diplomat/ presidential candidate and tireless campaigner against corruption, has emerged victorious from the latest round in the judicial battle between herself and media mogul and Douro Azul cruise boat boss Mário Ferreira.

Tweeting the decision of Guimarães appeal court, Ms Gomes described how yet again she has been “absolved of Mário Ferreira’s accusations to silence (her). Suspicions of corruption are founded. The boss of TVI/CNN purchased a boat from the State for €8.75 million, sold it in a deal with himself in Malta and re-sold it for €17 million”.

The whiff of corruption and more that Ms Gomes has alleged in the past was accepted by the court, particularly as the case is now in the hands of the Public Ministry and has seen involvement of PJ criminal police. 

Today, tabloid Correio da Manhã admits that the Public Ministry “suspects that the Greek company that ‘won the auction’ to acquire the Atlântida cruise ship from the ENVC (Viana do Castelo shipyards) functioned as a blind to allegedly permit Mário Ferreira buy the boat at a lower price”.

While Mr Ferreira has always maintained the deal was “totally public and transparent”, CM says suspicions over the role played by Thesarco Shipping appeared in a document found in the middle of various minutes of the ENVC board of directors.

“For this reason a letter rogatory was sent to Greece.

“The Greek company won the tender (to buy Atlântida for €12.8 million) but pulled out. The boat was sold to Mário Ferreira’s company Mystic Cruises, which had come second in the auction, bidding €8.75 million. This price corresponded to a lien the boat had on it at the time.”

The back story here is long and complicated. Basically the Atlântida was originally commissioned by the government of the Azores, in a deal that should have brought ENVC €50 million. Instead, it contributed to the shipyard’s demise, and generated losses of more than €70 million after the Azorean government reneged on the purchase, complaining the boat has been constructed to travel at the speed of one knot LESS than expected.

There then followed years in limbo, before the boat was finally auctioned off – and purchased by Mário Ferreira at what was essentially a ‘bargain basement price’.

As the algarvedailynews reported at the time, “no one had heard of Thesarco Shipping” when it ‘won’ the tender to purchase Atlântida.

The company “was listed on various obscure websites as a shipping company whose main activity was listed as shipping wheat from Russia and Ukraine, bulk salt from Egypt as well as coal and coke from the Ukraine and Russia”.

Only when the Greek bid fell through was any research published on the company and its owner, “a convict who has on occasion has been accused of slavery”.

According to Negocios online, it turned out that Thesarco Shipping had a reputation for “not paying its crews, not supplying them with food, water or fuel, and abandoning and sinking ships to claim on insurance.

“The owner, one Captain Evangelos Saravanos … is better known for breaches of various laws covering labour, environment, safety and maintenance of ships and their crews”, said the online.

“Captain Saravanos was involved between 2006 and 2010 in several cases of abandoning crew and of the deliberate sinking of ships all over the world in waters off Russia, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Greece.

“One of Saravanos’ cases involved the Aeta Sierra moored in Piraeus in August 2009, having been seized in Algeria as part of a legal dispute.

“In Piraeus the crew of the Aetea Sierra endured eight months on board without wages. The workers accused Captain Saravanos of leaving them without food and drinking water, condemning them “to live in subhuman conditions in a floating prison.”

“A Greek court ordered Saravanos pay €400,000 in back wages to his crew, but the ship owner managed to avoid paying in full. It later was discovered that he has served 38 months in prison for putting the lives of a crew at risk by leaving a ship without fuel.

“Then there was the case of the Thermopylae Sierra which eventually sank off the coast of Sri Lanka. A court condemned the Greek ship-owner to pay compensation for damages of €1.6 million”, continues the online.

Bearing all this in mind, it is curious to say the least that the Ministry of Defence (in charge of the sale of Atlântida in 2014) entertained Thesarco’s offer in the first place.

As it was, the company “never gave another sign of life” after its almost €13 million bid, says negocios online.

Mário Ferreira however is adamant that none of this has anything to do with him.

Where this hot potato goes next is anyone’s guess.

Neither Ana Gomes nor Mário Ferreira appear willing to let the matter drop; the former sticking to her guns about ‘flagrant corruption’, and the latter saying he will accept nothing less than a “complete retraction” of all Ms Gomes’ allegations.

It may depend on the outcome of the criminal complaint, which is taking its time to conclude.

NB a letter rogatory is a formal request from a court to a foreign court for judicial assistance.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com