By the Blouin News Business staff

Wealthy Qatar emir buys indebted Greece’s islands

by in Europe, Middle East.

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou and the Emir of the State of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani

Former Greek prime minister George Papandreou (L) and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani in October 2011. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

One is booming; the other languishes. What do they have in common? Money. Qatar, setting itself as a global financial player, has plenty to spend; Greece, with its unstable debt situation one of the European Union’s biggest worries, is eager to accumulate some.

In that setting, it has been easy for Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al Thani, Qatar’s ruling emir since 1995, to pick up six Greek islands for €8.5 million ($11 million) in the Ionian Sea, off the coast of Acarnania.

Four summers ago, the multi-billionaire Sheikh fell in love with the islands “when he moored his super-yacht in the turquoise waters off Ithaca, took in the view and liked what he saw,” according to The Guardian.

Island-hunting started that year. But it took until 2012 for al-Thani to make his first purchase, uninhabited Oxia, bought for €5 million from a Greek-Australian family who had put it on the market for close to €7 million –evidence of the Sheik’s negotiating abilities. The emir has since spent €3.5 million to acquire five nearby islets.

Such deals have been attainable in part due to the high property taxes that Greece has imposed since September 2011 as part of the E.U., IMF and European Central Bank’s bailout plan.

Qatar’s emir is on a global shopping spree ranging from real estate to fine art. He bid $31.5 million for two apartments in New York that he didn’t get, and, more successfully, a reported record high $250 million to acquire Paul Cézanne’s The Card Players from the estate of Greek shipping magnate George Embiricos. Al Thani, a moving force behind Qatar’s hosting of the 2022 FIFA World Cup,  is also said to be on the lookout for a European soccer club.

Nobody can be sure what Greece’s new honorary citizen plans to do with his islands. But at least he has somewhere in the Ionian to moor his super-yacht that he can call his own.