For Sale: Greek Islands

October 12, 2010 at 7:00 am

The Greek government is considering selling islands and other luxury properties to erase some of its debt. The only problem is no one knows who owns what.

Shortly before Easter in 2008, Antoine Maalouf arrived at the offices of the Greek Tourism Minister with an unusual request: He wanted to buy a Greek island. The 63-year-old general director of the Monaco-based investment company MMC Group slid €15 billion, in the form of guarantees issued by some of the largest financial institutions in the U.S. and Europe, across the mahogany conference table, right under the minister’s nose.

Maalouf’s idea was simple. He and his investor group would pay €120 million for Patroklos Island—a barren 1,000-acre strip in the Saronic Gulf nicknamed “Donkey Island” by fisherman—and construct a Las Vegas-style theme park. It was a short boat ride from Athens, and Maalouf planned to pack it with casinos, golf courses, luxury accommodations for 50,000 people, and a marina for thousands of yachts. The project would employ 8,000 Greeks at a time when the country was hurting for jobs. Donatella Versace had signed on to build a luxury hotel.

“All I needed to start was a letter that promised government assistance in overcoming Greece’s ridiculous bureaucracy,” Maalouf says. “I wanted commitment, an official written commitment.”

In response, Maalouf claims, Tourism Minister Fani Palli-Petralia said: “The Greek government gives you its full support,” and, “you have our blessing.”

Source: BusinessWeek, October 7, 2010, A.C. Copetas, http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_42/b4199070720737.htm?link_position=link3

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Entry filed under: European Union.

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