By: CHRIS GRAEME
THE PORTUGUESE government is determined that the Lisbon Casino land site should revert back to the state, and not to Estoril Sol Casinos, when the current lease runs out.
However, the Procurator-General’s Consultative Board last week ruled that under the terms of Gambling Law Decree-Law Number 40/2005 the Lisbon Casino building and car parking facilities should become the property of Estoril Sol at the end of its current concessionary lease.
State lawyers are now said to be studying the lease documents with a fine tooth comb in a bid to find a loop hole which would enable the state to retain the rights to the former Expo 98 building at the Parque das Nações.
The current PS government believes that the business agreement between Estoril Sol and the then PSD government “seriously prejudiced the state” and has been looking for ways to backtrack on the agreement ever since.
Estoril Sol for its part argued it has ploughed million of euros into the building and site, has created a top Lisbon tourist attraction, has generated millions in taxes for the state and employs hundreds at the casino.
Procurator-General legal beagles examining the case now say that there “are doubts over the legality of the Gambling Law 40/2005.”
“We do not have investigative competencies but it must be noted that Article 27 (that covers the reversion to the state of the land site and building) is flawed with regards to the spirit of the rest of the document,” states the Board’s report.
This article establishes as a norm the non-revertibility of casinos to the state, which is exactly the opposite of what the previous gambling laws had stipulated.
The alteration was made by the Santana Lopes/Paulo Portas PSD coalition government in December 2004.
The current situation is considered by PS government sources as “totally inadmissible” and if state interests have been damaged then the state has to be prepared to fight a judicial battle. In 2001 a concession lease contract was signed between Estoril Sol Casinos and the then government. But neither the contract nor subsequent annexes referred to what would happen to the Expo property once the lease was up.
This omission led to Estoril Sol Director Mario Assis Ferreira to request clarification from the government.
In August 2004 Estoril Sol sent a document to Tourism Minister, Telmo Correia requesting that Article 27 of the Gaming Law be altered so that the Lisbon Casino would belong to Estoril Sol.
In December 2004 the Gaming Law was changed to the effect that the state would not hold rights over casinos’ buildings once existing leases had expired.
In February, following allegations of phone tapping into the case, the Procurator-General launched an enquiry.
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