THE chairman of a leading Turkish construction company has said he wants to buy at least three Greek islands that the debt-ridden nation plans to sell, in what may be termed a fire sale, because of the latest agreement it made with its international lenders, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“Some real estate firms are intermediating in the sale of those islands. We are now in talks with those firms. We are considering six islands. I want to buy at least three of them,” said Board Chairman Fikret in an interview with the Anatolia news agency. He said the islands they take an interest in are called Lichnari, Kaltsonisi, Mikri Amorgos, Kardiotissa, Nausika and Vouvalo, which he added are of various sizes ranging from 10,000 to 2 million square meters.
A mid-size member of the 27-nation EU and the eurozone, which refers to the 17 EU nations that use the euro as their common currency, Greece is now facing a possible default on its huge debt, which is one-and-a-half times larger than its gross domestic product (GDP). It was bailed out last year with a 110 billion euro aid package from the EU and the IMF, but that package failed to put the debt-ridden nation back on track. Unable to return to international bond markets before 2012 to borrow at a cost cheaper than private lenders currently ask, the country, most observers believe, will need another voluminous bailout package to try once again to stand upright on its feet. Yet the austerity measures and rapid privatizations demanded by its international lenders are causing much stress on Athens’ streets and public anger has already turned into violence as protesters unhappy with their decreasing standards of living and with the planned sale of Greek assets clashed with police forces.
In order to raise as much as 50 billion euros from privatization projects, as demanded by the EU and the IMF, Greece is also planning to sell some of the many islands it has in the Aegean, some of them located very close to Turkey’s western coasts. The closeness of those islands to the Turkish mainland has in fact created a dispute between the two nations as to the extent of their territorial waters. The issue has not yet been resolved as Greece claims that its territorial waters should be extended from six to 12 nautical miles, citing an international maritime agreement, whereas Turkey, which is not a party to the agreement, disputes its northwestern neighbor’s claim about the extent of the territorial waters in the Aegean Sea. The sale of Greek islands in the Aegean to Turkish investors is expected to give rise to another heated debate in Greece. Noting that they tried to buy a number of Greek islands last year as well, Fikret also said they were told that it was “impossible” by the Greek authorities.
Fikret intends to construct a hotel chain on the islands. He already bought a mid-size Turkish island measuring 400,000 square meters for $35 million in the country’s western province in 2010 and started building a luxurious hotel and 50 villas which he wants to be the first link of the chain he said he would call the “Richa Island.” “There is still speculation as to whether the islands will be sold to Turks, but we have not received any official information in that regard. The intermediary institutions told us there is no such problem, which makes no sense. They may still introduce some [obstacles in our way] but I will then establish a company in Greece and buy those islands via that company,” said Fikret explaining how determined he is to acquire those islands. “If we ever, God willing, do such business, a bridge between Turkey and Greece will be established. We will then be able to receive guests at both our island in Turkey and those in Greece. We will also provide ferry services between them,” he added.
According to the Turkish businessman, the prices of each of those six islands are between 3 million and 20 million euros. He also said they have earmarked 20 million euros to buy three of those six islands and to invest another 80 million euros to construct the planned touristic facilities there.
Dismissing the possibilities of political repercussions of such a purchase, Fikret also said if more Turkish business people follow the same strategy and buy up to 50 Greek islands in the Aegean, Turkey will have “easier access to Europe.” “We can represent Turkey on those islands. It will be wonderful if other Turkish businessmen invest there after we open the door,” he said.