x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Qatar's emir reported to have snapped up six islands in Greece

Greece's ongoing economic crisis has offered holidaymakers the chance to bag a few bargains of late - and the Emir of Qatar is no exception.

Greece's long-running financial crisis may be catastrophic for the country, but it has presented holidaymakers with the chance to bag a few bargains of late. The emir of Qatar is no exception.

According to recent media reports, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani has spent €8.5 million (Dh40.5m) on six Greek islands in the Ionian Sea.

According to the British newspaper The Guardian, he bought the first island, Oxia, for just under €5m, despite an initial price tag of €7m and settled on a price for the other five, known as Echinades, last week.

However, it took the emir 18 months to negotiate the red tape.

"Greece is that kind of place," Ioannis Kassianos, Ithaca's Greek-American mayor was quoted by The Guardian as saying: "Even when you buy an island, even if you are the emir of Qatar, it takes a year-and-a-half for all the paperwork to go through."

The newspaper reported the emir first made inquiries about buying the islands after mooring his yacht off Ithaca four summers ago.

"They have a fund with a couple of hundred million in it," said Mr Kassianos. "And as far as I know they want to buy all 18 of the islands, the whole lot."

The website, Private Islands Online, describes the five Echinades islands as totally unaffected by industry, with no major sea lines in the vicinity.

"The turquoise water is crystal clear, perfect for swimming, sailing, water sports, fishing and deep sea diving. The beautiful pristine beaches, lush vegetation complete the picture of paradise," it said.

The largest island is ideal for a luxury resort, the website added.

However, the emir intends to turn the chain into a home from home and has brought in architects to draw up the plans. But a disagreement has developed over the size of the property.

"There is a stupid law because in Greece we do everything upside- down," Mr Kassianos told The Guardian.

"That law says that whatever the size of your land, your home can be no bigger than 250 square metres. The emir has reacted to this saying his WC is 250 sq metres and his kitchen alone has to be 1,000 sq metres, because otherwise how is he going to feed all his guests?"

Three years ago, at the start of the euro crisis, Qatar pledged to invest up to €5 billion in a range of sectors in Greece, including property, tourism and transport. But persistent delays led the Arabian Gulf country to pull out of the projects.

Last month, the Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras flew to Qatar to reinstate relations, leading to the Gulf country's decision to participate in an international tender to develop the former international airport in Athens. According to The Guardian, Qatar has also shown interest in buying the beachfront Astir Palace hotel in the Greek capital.

The Echinades were not the only islands of interest to the emir. According to reports he was also interested in buying the Ionian isle of Skorpios, about 30 kilometres from his new islands, where Jacqueline Kennedy married the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis.

However, the deal fell through after his granddaughter, Athina Onassis, refused to reduce the price, according to The Guardian. She is selling the island for €200m.