Oil baron thwarted in controversial bid for iconic Espírito Santo holiday paradise

The deeply controversial bid by businessman Pedro de Almeida for Herdade de Comporta, the former holiday home of the Espírito Santo clan, has come unstuck less than three months since it was first mooted (click here).

The official reason: “lack of transparency” in the way the deal was being handled.

The Public Ministry – which seized the iconic property two years ago, purportedly to “guarantee any damages that could be awarded as a result of criminal charges” resulting from the BES banking scandal – outlined the damning details in an announcement published on the online site of DCIAP (central department of investigation and penal action) yesterday afternoon.

It explained that prosecutors had “analysed the way in which the sale was being conducted and detected, in the course of its various phases, proceedings involving several participants that indicated conditions of exemption, transparency and objectivity had been disregarded”.

Says Sábado, behind this explanation is a DCIAP investigation that “detected possible indications of crime in the operation”.

Investigators listened in on Almeida’s phone calls through the use of wiretaps and at some point must have obtained a search warrant for either his home or business (Sábado simply refers to “searches”).

What DCIAP suspected, explained the paper, is that Almeida was being passed “privileged information” so that his bid for Comporta, in the name of his company Ardma – as mysterious as it was (no price was ever disclosed) – would be favoured over others that were interested in the deal.

Among these “others” were US ‘equity fund’ Armory Merchant Holdings which announced – a tad precipitously in April 2015 – that it was purchasing Comporta for €400 million (€100 million of which would go towards paying off the estate’s massive debt to State Bank CGD) (click here).

So where was Almeida’s privileged information coming from? According to Sábado it was coming from the so-called intermediary in the sale, a company by the name of “Back In Line”.

“Back in Line” belongs to two Espírito Santo family members, and thus it is not difficult to see how investigators came to suspect “lack of transparency”.

The Espírito Santo family should have nothing to do with the sale of the property that originally belonged to them.

Caetano Espírito Santo Beirão da Veiga and his brother Carloto are thus now in a very uncomfortable position, while the possibility of any kind of ‘sale’ is back at square one, with as many as 300 other bidders described as being interested.

Some hours before the Public Ministry explained its reasons for blowing out Ardma/ Pedro de Almeida, Sábado’s sister paper Correio da Manhã was saying Chinese, Arab and US groups were ‘back in the running’.

Armory Merchant Holdings is most certainly one of them. Its main investor Asher Edelman has been quietly waiting in the background, expecting a debacle like this as he was being kept fully abreast of all the goings on behind-the-scenes.

Edelman is in close touch with Algarve online news website Algarve Daily News which has been sounding alerts to this effect since 2015.

It’s now just a question of seeing what new bids are presented for the sumptuous slice of real estate that Edelman has described as “the best resort in the world”.

[email protected]