t already owns more of London than the Crown Estate. But Qatar is believed to have cast its real estate net even further afield after snapping up a spectacular Highlands mansion in Inverness-shire for £7million.
The 545-acre Eilean Aigas estate, which sits on its own island and is known locally as the modern day Balmoral, has reportedly been bought by the Qatari royal family after nearly four years on the market.
The property, situated close to Beauly, is registered to an offshore company, based in Jersey. Savills, the estate agent which sold the estate, declined to comment, but a source close to the sale said the new owner was a Qatari royal.
Lavish: Qatar is believed to have bought the Eilean Aigas estate, which includes this spectacular Highlands mansion, in Inverness for £7m
This graphic shows some of the UK landmarks which are owned by the Qatar royal family, including historic sites in London
If the reports are correct, the sprawling estate becomes one of a number of famous British assets which have been snapped up by the tiny Gulf state as part of its ever-growing influence in the UK.
Thanks to its sovereign wealth fund of more than $250 billion, Qatar already has Harrods, Canary Wharf and the Shard in its armoury, along with significant shares in Heathrow Airport, Sainsbury’s and the London Stock Exchange.
Steve Byford, the chairman of Kilmorack community council, said: ‘Our understanding is one of the Qatari royal family has bought it. I think the community will welcome them to the area and hopefully they will get involved within the community.’
The Qatari family has already made its physical mark on other areas of the UK, particularly in London where it has snapped up large swathes of the financial districts and historical buildings.
Last year, the autocratic oil and gas-rich Gulf state – which has become one of the world’s most affluent counties, despite being smaller than Belgium – acquired Canary Wharf financial district, in conjunction with Canadian developers Brookfield Properties, through its majority holding in Songbird Estates plc. The sale price was £2.6bn.
When Barclays was in trouble at the height of the banking turmoil, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) – Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund – emerged as a white-knight investor, and became the biggest shareholder, now owning 7 per cent.
Landmark: The Qatar Investment Authority bought Canary Wharf (pictured) in conjunction with developers Brookfield Properties for £2.6bn
Deal: Qatari Diar, the state’s investment arm, teamed up with UK property developer Delancey Estates to buy the athletes’ village for £557m
Prized: The Shard (centre), western Europe’s tallest skyscraper, is 95 per cent owned by the Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company
Striking: Qatar Holding bought luxury department store Harrods from businessman Mohamed Al Fayed for a reported £1.4billion in 2010
Investment: Qatar Holding, which also has shares in Barclays and Sainsbury’s, owns a 10 per cent stake in the London Stock Exchange
Meanwhile, the state’s real estate investment vehicle Qatari Diar took ownership of the Olympic Village at Stratford after the games finished in 2012. They purchased the site £557million, meaning the British government lost around £500m in the sale.
One of the state’s greatest assets is the grand building of Harrods in Knightsbridge which it bought from Mohammed Al Fayed for £1.5billion in 2010.
Close by, One Hyde Park is owned by Qatari Diar – a property investment company owned wholly by the QIA – and described as the world’s most expensive block of flats.
Qatar is also a major investor in Sainsbury’s and owns 20 per cent of the London Stock Exchange. At the other end of the scale, it owns 20 per cent of Camden market, the biggest grunge emporium in the country.
The country also acquired the Chelsea barracks from the Ministry of Defence for more than £900m in 2007, which it plans to turn into flats. Two years later, it bought the 600-room former US embassy on Grosvenor Square, in the heart of Mayfair.
And it seems the state has no intention of slowing down. Last December, the royal family submitted plans to convert three prime properties in London’s Regent’s Park into a huge mansion, set to become the UK’s first £200million home.
The house at Eilean Aigas was built in 1839 by Lord Lovat for the Sobieski Stuart brothers, antiquarians who claimed to be descendants of Bonnie Prince Charlie.
Glamorous: Constellation Hotels, part of the Qatar Holding investment subsidiary of the QIA, bought a 64 per cent stake in hotel company Coroin – which owns Claridge’s, The Berkeley and The Connaught (pictured) – from the Barclay brothers for an undisclosed sum last year
Iconic: The sale of the hotel group, which includes Claridge’s (pictured), was reported to have been as high as £1.6billion
The QIA acquired a 20 per cent stake in Camden Market (pictured) in 2008 for up to £80m, although this figure was said to be exaggerated
Plans to develop: Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment bought the US Embassy building in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair, pictured, in 2009
Exclusive: Qatar’s prime minister owns 50 per cent of One Hyde Park, pictured, through his property development company Waterknights
Luxury: The Qatari royal family bought 1, 2, and 3 Cornwall Terrace (pictured) in 2013 and is converting the three into a £200million palace
High-end: The Berkeley Hotel, in London’s upmarket Knightsbridge, pictured, was added to Qatar’s impressive property portfolio last year
Residential development: Qatari Diar bought the site of the Chelsea Barracks, pictured, from the Ministry of Defence for nearly £1bn in 2007
More recently, the seat of the Frasers of Lovat was bought by Brendan Clouston, a Canadian telecoms tycoon, who spent large sums renovating the property, buying surrounding woodland and ensuring the island remains hidden from the outside world.
Eilean Aigas was once the summer retreat of Sir Robert Peel, the former Conservative prime minister, and was also rented by Sir Compton Mackenzie, the author of Whisky Galore and co-founder of the SNP.
The purchase echoes that of the nearby 10,000-acre Cluny Estate, near Laggan, which was bought last year by a company based in Jersey for £7.3 million. It is widely believed that another member of the oil-rich dynasty was behind the sale.
Andy Wightman, the author and land reform campaigner, raised concerns over the trend.
He said: ‘My real concern is that tax havens are being used increasingly and about 750,000 acres in Scotland — an area larger than Ayrshire — is owned by companies registered in secrecy jurisdictions, which means the public has no means of finding out who owns the land.’
Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of Qatar, is the head of the country’s royal family. He was educated in the UK and attended Sandhurst.
FROM BRITAIN’S OLYMPIC LEGACY TO THE GRUNGE CAPITAL OF ENGLAND: HOW QATAR NOW OWNS MORE UK LANDMARKS THAN OUR OWN CROWN ESTATE
Harrods: The Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) bought Harrods from Mohammed Al Fayed for £1.5 billion in 2010.
The Shard: The Qatari Diar Real Estate Investment Company owns 95 per cent of the the tallest building in western Europe
The Olympic Village: Qatari Diar acquired the site for £557 million in 2011 and took it over after the games. The British government lost around £500 million in the sale of the site. Oppositely, it is predicted that Qatar could make a £1bn profit in any future sale.
Canary Wharf: The QIA bought Canary Wharf last year, in conjunction with Canadian developers Brookfield Properties, for £2.6bnn. The QIA can also lay claim to its first City property, as part of the ‘Walkie Talkie’ building comes under Canary Wharf.
Sainsbury’s: QIA increased its stake in the supermarket giant to 26 per cent in 2007, becoming its biggest stakeholder.
Heathrow Airport: Qatar Holdings – a subsidiary of QIA – snapped up a 20 per cent stake for £900m in 2012.
The Former US embassy building: The 600-room Chancery Building on Grosvenor Square, in the heart of Mayfair, was acquired by Qatari Diar in 2009.
One Hyde Park: Half of the building is owned by Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the former Qatari prime minister, through development company Waterknights.
Chelsea Barracks: Qatari Diar acquired the site from the Ministry of Defence for more than £900m in 2007.
Claridges, The Berkeley and The Connaught: Constellation Hotels, part of the Qatar Holding investment subsidiary of the QIA, bought a 64 per cent stake in hotel company Coroin – which owns Claridge’s, The Berkeley and The Connaught – for an undisclosed sum from the billionaire Barclay brothers in 2015. The reported figure was as high as £1.6bn.
London stock exchange: The QIA owns 10 per cent of the London stock exchange
Barclays: The state owns 7 per cent of the banking giant
Camden market: The QIA acquired a 20 per cent stake in Camden Market in 2008 for up to £80m, although this figure was said to be exaggerated.
And in Scotland…
Highland hideaways Anders Povlsen, a Danish fashion billionaire has bought a number of estates in the Highlands, including 43,000-acre Glenfeshie, and is now Scotland’s second- largest landowner after the Duke of Buccleuch.
Sigrid Rausing, the Swedishborn Tetra Pak heir, owns the 40,000-acre Coignafearn estate south of Inverness.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the emir of Dubai, is building a 16-bedroom hunting lodge on the banks of Loch Duich.
The crown prince also owns a 63,000-acre estate in Inverinate in Wester Ross.