The oil and gas rich state of Qatar already owns Harrods, The Shard of Glass and the Olympic Village. Now it is bidding to win control of the capital’s second most famous financial district – Canary Wharf – and add the biggest trophy yet to its collection of London property assets.
Qatar already owns a roster of high-profile assets in the capital including the Harrods department store and Chelsea Barracks. It is also the preferred bidder to buy HSBC’s Canary Wharf headquarters for £1.1bn.
But now the Qatar Investment Authority – in tandem with Canada’s property investment group Brookfield – has stepped up its ambitions by opening talks over a potential offer for Songbird Estates, the 69 per cent shareholder in Docklands landlord and developer Canary Wharf Group.
The approach comes as rents rise in Canary Wharf ahead of the imminent arrival of Crossrail and the area challenges the traditional supremacy of the City as the capital’s premier financial district. The QIA is already a 28.6 per cent shareholder in Songbird and will need to buy out other major stakeholders, including US investor Simon Glick, whose Glick Entities owns 25.9 per cent, the China Investment Corporation and Morgan Stanley. Brookfield is also a 22 per cent shareholder in Canary Wharf Group.
The City sent shares in Songbird soaring 22 per cent yesterday, putting a £2.33bn price tag on the company.
The QIA and Brookfield have until 4 December to table a bid. Songbird urged its shareholders to take no action but investors said the offer was bound to put the prestigious East London estate on the block.
While Canary Wharf is famed for its landmark skyscrapers, which would not look out of place in an Emerati capital, it has also been extending into residential property, recently winning the rights to develop more than 3,000 homes on the Docklands site’s eastern margins.
Meanwhile, Songbird owns an increasingly large portfolio in central London and the City of London district, including the famous Shell Centre building in the South Bank theatre and arts district.
Meanwhile, the Qatari royal family are big property owners in their own right, with former prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani owning the billionaire’s towerblocks development known as One Hyde Park, where a flat once sold for £140m. It owns “OHP”, as the development is known among super-rich Londoners, in a joint venture with the design entrepreneurs, Candy & Candy.
The Serious Fraud Office is currently deciding whether to prosecute Barclays over how it persuaded Qatar Holding – a QIA subsidiary – to buy stakes in the bank when it needed emergency capital in 2008.
The country’s increasing clout in London’s business scene has, according to some critics of the country, made it harder for Britain to challenge its government over persistent allegations that some quarters of the wealthy state are financial backers of the so-called Islamic State – claims the country’s leadership denies.
Qatar’s growing business links here also are seen by some critics as making it more difficult for Britain to challenge issues around its success in winning the 2022 World Cup and the conditions of migrant workers building the stadiums.Reuse content