Town hall, sports complex, camping site and ‘Pousada’ buildings seized by BCP
Vila Real de Santo António council is at risk of losing several municipal buildings which have been seized by BCP bank due to the council’s long-standing debts.
The buildings seized include the VRSA town hall, the municipality’s famous sports complex, the Monte Gordo camping site, and the council-owned buildings which currently house the ‘Pousada de Portugal’ hotel managed by the Pestana group.
As the council explains, the seizures follow five loans taken out by extinct municipal company VRSA – Sociedade de Gestão Urbana (SGU) between 2007 and 2009, worth more than €32 million.
Only 30% of the money owed has been paid off, with the council still having to pay back around €22.5 million – to put the matter into perspective, the council says this sum represents around 73% of its entire revenue received in 2022.
Making matters even worse is that the some of the loans were taken out for projects than never moved forward.
“One of the loans, dating back to 2009 and worth €13.5 million, was aimed at the construction of the second phase of the Pavilhão Gimnodesportivo (sports pavilion), although the works never moved forward,” said local mayor Álvaro Araújo.
“This loan led, however, to the mortgaging of the Monte Gordo camping site, jeopardising one of the main municipal infrastructures, which also represents one of the municipality’s main sources of revenue,” he added.
The council also stresses that a nearly €3 million loan was also obtained to purchase 40 apartments for affordable housing in Monte Gordo. But while the money was received in 2008 and used, the apartments were never purchased.
Álvaro Araújo (PS) has blamed the council’s troubled state of affairs on the previous PSD local administrations.
“This situation represents a flagrant example of poor financial and heritage management, which could compromise the functioning of the council, its service and its assets,” Araújo said, calling for those responsible to be held accountable.
“It must be understood, more than ever, how it is possible for a municipality with just 20,000 citizens to reach €180 million in liabilities, six times the value allowed by Law, and suffer from a series of shortcomings affecting nearly every municipal infrastructure without anyone being held accountable or any procedure being carried out to find out who was responsible for leading the municipality to the situation of financial ruin that it is in,” the mayor added.
The council is hoping that a Municipal Support Plan (Plano de Apoio Municipal, or PAM) could channel €36 million into its coffers, which would allow it to pay off its debts and recover its municipal buildings.
But to have access to the money, the Court of Auditors must first green light the plan.
“The court’s judges know that we are not responsible for this state of affairs, and we are convinced they will approve the PAM so that we can pay off the BCP debt and not be in this situation. But we cannot, at the moment, hide this from the population and the entities of this country,” Araújo said.
In 2021, former VRSA mayor Conceição Cabrita (PSD) resigned after being arrested by PJ police for her alleged involvement in an illegal property deal in Monte Gordo.