Middle Eastern investors descend on Algarve

With news of the first stone laid at Loulé’s Ombria Resort taking precedence last week, little was said about two intriguing visits to the Algarve of multi-millionaire investors – one of which is intent on constructing a massive development on Ombria’s effective doorstep.

Kuwaiti ‘sheik’ Talal-al Bahar, owner of United Investments Portugal which already runs the exclusive Pine Cliffs and Sheraton Cascais resorts, met with the minister of the economy Manuel Caldeira Cabral, Secretary of State for Tourism Ana Godinho and Secretary of State for the Environment and Territorial Planning Célia Ramos, the day before Ombria’s much-publicised stone-laying ceremony.

His objective, explains Jornal do Algarve, was “to try and unblock” the controversial Vale do Freixo Golf and Country Resort project – a €220 million plan for Loulé’s Barrocal heartland which the ICNF (forestry and nature conservation institute) has been holding up for the last five years.

As Negocios online explained last month, ICNF concerns centre on the land’s ‘protection’ under Rede Nature 2000, and how it may be compromised by a project of Vale do Freixo’s proportions.

“The ICNF is not convinced that the project will not prejudice an environmental area”, said the website, citing UIP’s director general in what it presented a ‘last ditch attempt’ to get things moving (click here).

Clearly, the development was not so much a ‘last ditch attempt’ as the first step in a new strategy to win Vale do Freixo the final go-ahead that it lacks.

Ten days ago, national weekly Expresso stressed Vale do Freixo was actually the “first in Portugal” to receive coveted PIN (‘project of national importance’) status, which usually works wonders on any kind of bureaucratic red tape.

Battling environmentalists at Almargem have interpreted Al-Bahar’s flying visit as a “new wave of pressures” on what should be Loulé’s protected interior, and they have warned that any approval of the Vale do Freixo project could see the EU open a new case against Portugal for environmental infractions that would “compromise the good name of the borough”.

Meantime, another multi-millionaire investor connected to the world-class chain of Four Seasons hotels has been fêted in the Algarve.

Saudi ‘magnate’ Alwaleed bin Talal (a member of the Saudi royal family) has apparently been “invited to increase his investments in Portugal” by none other than President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.

The man who owns 95% of Kingdom Holding Company, described by Wikipedia as “a diversified investment company, whose main interests are financial services, real estate, tourism and hospitality, media, entertainment, petrochemicals, aviation and technology” arrived last Monday, to talk with Marcelo while the latter was on holiday, reports Correio da Manhã.

Also present at the meeting was minister for foreign affairs Augusto Santos Silva, and Portugal’s ambassador in Saudi Arabia Manuel Carvalho.

Little more has been reported on the meeting, and nothing has been said about what kind of investments President Marcelo may have had in mind.

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