All the Mexican regulatory authorities that issued permits for the operation of Sempra Energy's Energia Costa Azul liquefied natural gas (LNG) receiving terminal have assured the San Diego-based company they will not revoke the terminal's operating licenses, according to a Sempra LNG spokesperson. A rescheduled Mexican court hearing Sept. 10 will confirm this, the spokesperson told NGI.

During the ongoing legal battle that surfaced earlier this year, Sempra alleged that the plaintiff, Ramon Eugenio Sanchez Ritchie, has a criminal record and a cozy relationship with the Mexican federal district judge, Andre Nalda Jose Neals, who has been instrumental in Sanchez Ritchie's legal pleading. In contrast, Sanchez Ritchie alleges that Sempra acquired his land illegally and is therefore in violation of its permits to operate the Energia Costa Azul LNG terminal (see Daily GPI, Aug. 10).

Eventually, the original Ensenada judge was granted his recusal request due to "conflict of interest" in the ongoing legal battle between Sempra and Sanchez Ritchie, a would-be owner of 220 acres adjacent to Sempra's terminal.

Another hearing previously scheduled earlier in the summer is set for this Thursday to rule on the merits of Sanchez Ritchie's "amparo" (Mexican constitutional challenge) where he will ask the court to order the governmental authorities to revoke the LNG terminal's permits.

And in yet another aspect of the meandering legal battle, Sempra and other parties have yet to be served with a third legal filing in a U.S. district court in San Diego. Earlier in August Sempra CEO Don Felsinger downplayed legal actions on both sides of the border, noting that his company was being subjected to a form of what he called "extortion."

Sanchez Ritchie has filed lawsuits first in Mexico and more recently in the U.S. District Court in San Diego, but Felsinger said the issue is "not one of much importance," seeking to put the ongoing legal dispute in perspective in responding to an analyst's question.

"The purpose of the Sept. 10 hearing [originally set for Aug. 5] is to rule on Sanchez Ritchie's request for suspension of the Energia Costa Azul permits issued by those agencies that did not respond to the [original] June 17 [Mexican district court] order," the spokesperson said. "We have received notice from all the regulatory agencies that granted permits to Energia Costa Azul that they will not revoke our terminal's permits. This hearing should formally end this process."

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