By ADAM SCHRECK, Associated Press
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar signed a deal Monday to buy the operator of four luxury resorts and other properties on the island of Sardinia as the wealthy Gulf emirate looks to bolster ties with Italy.
The purchase coincided with a visit to Rome by the country's emir. It is the latest deal in a European shopping spree that has given the natural-gas rich state a stake in European banks, energy companies and some of the continent's best known brands.
State-owned Qatar Holding, an arm of the country's sovereign wealth fund, said it will acquire resort operator Smeralda Holding from Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm Colony Capital.
The deal includes the Cala di Volpe, Pitrizza, Romazzino and Cervo hotels, a marina and shipyard, a golf club and a 51 percent interest in 2,290 hectares (5,660 acres) of undeveloped land nearby.
Qatar Holding plans to keep Smeralda's existing management, and said Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide Inc. will continue to run the hotels.
Financial terms were not disclosed. The deal must still be approved by Italian regulators.
The deal was announced as Italian Premier Mario Monti held talks with Qatar's emir Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani at a government villa in Rome. Monti hailed the visit as way for the countries to strengthen their friendship.
"I am very happy for this meeting because it was (an) occasion to consolidate a strategic relationship between the two countries," Monti told a news conference after the talks.
The emir told reporters that Qatar's sovereign fund is looking for ways to invest in Italy. When asked what factors discouraged investment in Italy, the emir said "corruption, first of all," according to Monti.
Among the accords signed Monday was one aimed at boosting efforts to fight graft and crime. Another raises the number of passenger flights between the countries from 14 to 35 weekly, and cargo flights from two to seven, Monti said.
Monti promised Italian help to Qatar as it prepares to host soccer's 2022 World Cup.
"Italy has unique know-how and can contribute to the success" of the sporting event, the Italian leader said.
Over the past several years, Qatar has used its vast energy wealth to amass a diverse portfolio of European properties.
Its holdings on the continent include stakes in Barclays PLC, Credit Suisse Group, Volkswagen AG, and the London Stock Exchange. It acquired stakes in Spanish power utility Iberdrola SA and electric company Energias de Portugal last year.
Qatari investors control French soccer team Paris Saint-Germain and Spanish club Malaga, while the logo of state-sponsored nonprofit Qatar Foundation graces the jerseys of another Spanish team, Barcelona.
Associated Press writer Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed reporting.
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