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Greece puts islands up for sale to save economy

There’s little that shouts “seriously rich” as much as a little island in the sun to call your own. For Richard Branson it is Neckar in the Caribbean, the billionaire Barclay brothers prefer Brecqhou in the Channel Islands, while Aristotle Onassis married Jackie Kennedy on Skorpios, his Greek hideway.

business Updated: Jun 26, 2010 02:21 IST
Elena Moya for The Guardian

There’s little that shouts “seriously rich” as much as a little island in the sun to call your own. For Richard Branson it is Neckar in the Caribbean, the billionaire Barclay brothers prefer Brecqhou in the Channel Islands, while Aristotle Onassis married Jackie Kennedy on Skorpios, his Greek hideway.

Now Greece is making it easier for the rich and famous to fulfill their dreams by preparing to sell, or offering long-term leases on, some of its 6,000 sun-kissed islands in a desperate attempt to repay its mountainous debts.

An area on Mykonos, one of Greece’s top tourist destinations, is one of the sites for sale. The area is one-third owned by the government, which is looking for a buyer willing to inject capital and develop a luxury tourism complex, according to a source close to the negotiations.

Potential investors, who are also looking at property investments on Rhodes, are mostly Russian and Chinese. Investors in both countries are looking for a little bit of the Mediterranean as holiday destinations for their increasingly affluent populations. Roman Abramovich is among those understood to be interested, although a spokesman denied he is about to invest.

Greece has embarked on the desperate measures after being pushed into a 110-billion euros bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, following a decade of overspending and after jittery investors raised borrowing costs to unbearable levels.

The Private Islands website lists 1,235-acre Nafsika, in the Ionian sea, on the market for 15 million euros. But others are up for grabs for less than 2 million euros— less than a town house in London’s upmarket Mayfair or Chelsea. Some of the country’s numerous islands are tiny rocky islets which could barely fit a single sunbed.

Only 227 Greek islands are populated and the decision to press ahead with potential sales has also been driven by the inability of the state to find funds to develop basic utility infrastructure, or police most of its islands. The hope is that the sale or long-term lease of some islands will attract investment that will generate jobs and taxable income.

“I am sad — selling off your islands or areas that belong to the people of Greece should be used as the last resort,” said Makis Perdikaris, director of Greek Island Properties. “But the first thing is to develop the economy and attract foreign domestic investment to create the necessary infrastructure. The point is to get money.”