The Agrarian Tribunal of Baja California has ruled that the government wrongly issued the title to land on which Sempra Energy's liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant sits. The land in Baja California belongs to a rancher, and a phony title was awarded to Sempra eight years ago, said the court. Mexican media began reporting the decision yesterday, December 21, and stressed it again today.
The rancher is Ramón Eugenio Sánchez Ritchie, who lost a case in a San Diego federal court in 2010. The judge then said Ritchie's complaint was against Mexican authorities, not Sempra. The court battle has been going on for several years.
A negative outcome could sting Sempra, which owns San Diego Gas & Electric. In March of this year, it raised $574 million by selling stock in its Mexican operations. In the offering materials, Sempra warned, "We also are engaged in disputes regarding our title to the properties on which our LNG terminal is located and and our title to the property on which our Termoelectrica de Mexicali power generation is located….
"In the event that we are unable to defend and retain title to the properties on which our LNG terminal is located or on the property on which our power generation facility is located, we could lose our rights to occupy and use such properties and the related facility or terminal, which could result in breaches of one or more permits or contracts that we have entered into with respect to such facility and/or terminal. If we are unable to occupy and use such properties and the related facility or terminal, it could have a material adverse effect on our business, financial condition, results of our operations, cash flows, prospects and/or the market price of our shares."
Sempra gave a similar warning in its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission for the year ended December 31 of 2012.
San Diego attorney Gary Aguirre, who represents a whistleblower in a related civil suit regarding Sempra's activities in Mexico, says, "The decision of a Mexican agricultural judge to give Sánchez Ritchie back his home again puts the high beam on Sempra's questionable circle of influence in Mexico."
Doug Kline, spokesman for Sempra, said he could not answer questions about the decision and suggested I contact the company's international operations tomorrow, December 23, which I will do.