The Junta de Andalucía has run out of patience and taken the first steps towards revoking the contract awarded to the group controlled by Malaga CF boss Sheikh Al-Thani to expand La Bajadilla port.
On Monday the Andalusian ports authority, APPA, issued an ultimatum: the group must pay its dues in three months or the concession will be withdrawn.
In May 2011 the temporary group formed by the firm Nasir Bin Abdullah & Sons (owned by Sheikh Al-Thani) and, with a minority three per cent share, the municipal firm Puerto Deportivo, won the tender to extend the Marbella port to cater for cruise ships and larger yachts. The conditions included an annual payment of 750,000 euros to the APPA, a fee that would increase to a million from 2017. So far the authority has not received the fees for 2012 nor 2013.
The contract also stated that the group would set up a company with a capital stock of at least 25 per cent of the proposed investment, which in this case amounts to 84 million euros without tax. After the Mercantile Register rejected the constitution of the original firm new deeds were signed in October last week in which the capital stock was reduced to 4.2 million.
The APPA does not consider that this company is valid. The constitution of a new firm with a capital stock of at least 21 million euros is among the conditions the APPA is demanding be met within three months, along with the payment of the 1.5 million owed in fees. The sheikh’s firm has already been given a 30,000-euro fine for failing to set up the company according to the contract. This is subject to a surcharge due to non-payment.
The third condition the sheikh has been given three months to meet is to come up with the building plans. The technical project was handed in last June but was rejected by the APPA due to a lack of technical specifications. In fact the plans were almost an exact copy of the initial project with which they won the contract. This delay has cost the group a further fine of 25,000 euros.
The APPA also demands payments owed to firms that provide services in the port and the formation of a suitable administrative and technical structure.
Town Hall support
In response to the warning from the APPA, Marbella Town Hall has expressed its determination to save the project at all costs.
Municipal spokesman Félix Romero said on Tuesday that the three-month deadline set by the APPA could be detrimental to the town. He explained that it had taken the town ten years to get the project to this stage and “Marbella can’t permit itself another ten-year wait”.
The local authority, led by mayor Ángeles Muñoz, believes that there is still enough time to save the concession. The Town Hall is urging the APPA to draw funds from the 4.2 million euro guarantee deposited by the group to claim unpaid debts. Muñoz explained that if the annual fee is 750,000 euros “they have enough for five payments if nothing is done.”
The Marbella authorities have also called for the APPA to give La Bajadilla the same leeway as it is giving the delayed San Andrés port project in Malaga.
“The Andalusian Government must give all the concession holders in the region the same treatment and not treat Marbella worse than the rest,” said the mayor.
Local business owners are also reluctant to let the project slip through the town’s fingers. The president of the CIT (Centre for Tourism Initiatives) Juan José González, has asked the Junta de Andalucía for “enough flexibility, given the importance of the project for the town.”
Both González and the Town Hall share the opinion that finding a new investor for the project would be extremely difficult, hence the need to cling on to the sheikh’s project for the sake of the future of the town.
The opposition groups have also given their support to the current project but call for more responsibility from the Town Hall. Socialist spokesman José Bernal said: “If at the moment nobody knows where the sheikh is, the Town Hall [as minority partner] must answer for his breach of contract.”
Izquierda Unida spokesman Enrique Monterroso called for “greater clarity and information” regarding the project’s progress.
If the contract holders have not met the conditions laid down in the document issued on Monday the APPA will begin proceedings to revoke the concession.