Paris/Abu Dhabi: Qatar is in the process of finalising a deal with Starwood Capital to buy from the US group a portfolio of four luxury hotels in France for an undisclosed price. It is the latest in a wave of high-profile purchases in the country by Qatar, which has led to a political backlash.
The Qatari acquirer of the hotels, which include the art deco Martinez on Cannes' Croisette waterfront, is understood to be Katara Hospitality, a state-owned hotels group.
Most of the country's investments in France, however, are made through another state entity — the Qatar Investment Authority, the sovereign wealth fund whose subsidiaries include Qatar Holding, its direct investment arm and Qatar Diar, the property investment group.
Set up in 2005, it is now estimated to manage $100 billion (Dh367 billion) of assets. QIA and its subsidiaries' investments include stakes in Tiffany's, the US jeweller, Volkswagen cars, London's Harrods department store, Shell, Barclays and Credit Suisse.
Qatar Holding's 11 per cent stake in miner Xstrata has made it crucial to the success of the merger deal with Glencore, the commodities trading group, as its demands last week for better terms have shown.
But it is in France that the pace of investment appears to have accelerated in the past year.
Before 2011, Qatar Diar already had stakes in Vinci, a construction group, in the utility companies Suez Environnement and Veolia, and in prominent hotels and casinos in the south of France.
Since last year, state-backed Qatari investors have stepped up activity, buying the Paris Saint-Germain football club, Le Tanneur, a luxury leather goods company and a 1.5 per cent stake in Vivendi, the entertainment and telecoms company.
Qatar Holding also invested heavily in Lagardere, taking 8 per cent of the shares in 2011 which it raised this year to 13 per cent, making it the media group's largest shareholder.
It also has its eye on Lagardere's 7.5 per cent stake in EADS, the Franco-German aircraft maker. Qatar Airways is one of the biggest customers of Airbus aircraft manufactured by EADS.
It emerged this year that Qatar Holding had also bought a 1 per cent stake in LVMH, the Dior-to-Dom Perignon champagne luxury goods group, and had acquired 3 per cent of oil group Total, the country's biggest company. The wealth funds have also bought recently prominent buildings on the Champs-ElysEes and Boulevard Haussmann, two of the best-known thoroughfares in Paris.
One banker familiar with Qatar Holding said that France was now second to the UK in its European investments, in part owing to a geopolitical hedging strategy. "The French are often contrary to the Anglo-Saxons, so the likelihood of alienating them all at the same time is low."
QIA does not disclose the size of its investments. But a person familiar with Qatar Holding told the FT that the fund aimed to maintain "good relations with all parties, in all countries and regions. We will not instigate any form of competition among the various host countries where we invest by inferring that one is better than another."
Asked why France had featured so prominently recently, the person said: "The prevailing economic conditions in both developed and emerging markets have given rise to substantial opportunities which appear attractive, especially in Europe but also in other regions, including Asia. Real estate assets and commodities appear to be especially interesting sectors to explore. Special situations can also arise during specific phases of an economic downturn."
— Financial Times