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Monday February 19th 2018



How Qatar is seducing Italy

Until very recently, nobody living in the small village of Cingoli, in the middle of the Appennine mountains of central Italy knew where Qatar was, or even what it is. But the local people learnt quickly enough when a delegation from the Gulf state, headed by ambassador Abdulaziz Bin Ahmed Al Malki, donated five million euros (Dh21.5 million) a couple of months ago to build a brand-new school in Macerata, the regional capital.

A year ago, the Marche region suffered a severe earthquake. There is still much rebuilding to be done. To struggling provincial communities like Cingoli the cash from Qatar was like gold raining down from the heavens.

Qatar has been most generous to Italy lately. In Sardinia, where Qatar bought the famous Costa Smeralda resort from American-Lebanese investor Tom Barrack, the country is committed to building a new hospital for the community of Olbia. Using funds from Qatari charity organisations, Doha is also financing the construction of several mosques across Italy.

In June, Peninsula Capital, a private equity fund managed by Spanish bankers and believed to be financed by Qatar, bought a majority stake in NTV, a privately-owned rail company which operates high-speed trains in Italy.

All this fresh activity and investment comes amid Qatar’s recent isolation by its neighbours over its support of extremist groups. The timing cannot be coincidental. Economic and political ties between Italy and Qatar date back to 2012 when the Qatari investment group Mayhoola acquired Valentino, the couture fashion house. Since then Qatar has kept on acquiring assets in Italy, especially hotels and leisure-related real estate.
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