German, Russian and Chinese companies race to buy up Greek infrastructure

The Greek government has yielded to privatisation measures as a means to pay off its creditors

Piraeus port
A man sits on a dock of the port of Piraeus, near Athens, May 7, 2015.Alkis Konstantinidis/Reuters

Foreign corporations from countries including Germany, China and Russia are lining up to buy Greek state assets as the country struggles to pay its European creditors.

The sell-off includes major parts of Greece's infrastructure such as airports, ports, motorways and utilities., The website of the agency leading the government's privatisation drive details a host of real estate ready to be sold off, with deals listed as either 'in progress', 'rolling ahead' or 'completed'.

The move marks a U-turn from the ruling Left-wing Syriza party, who had previously resisted the privatisation programme imposed as part of the conditions attached to Greece's €245bn bailout from the so-called troika of the IMF, European Central Bank (ECB) and European Commission.

Notable deals on the table as part of the privatisation drive include the purchase of 51% of Greece's largest port to the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) and a slew of airports popular with tourists to German transport company Fraport AG.

Other assets listed include the 670km Egnatia Motorway which crosses over Northern Greece, million dollar properties in New York, Washington and Belgrade, thermal springs, and and a former US Air Force base in Heraklion, Crete.

In late February Syriza announced that they would block the sale of strategic assets. The economy minister George Stathakis said that the government would stop the sale of Greece's largest port, Piraeus Port, while Panagiotis Lafazanis the new energy minister declared that the new government would not proceed with the planned sale of holdings in several gas and electricity companies.

Finance minister Yanis Varoufakis commented at the time: "It's not very clever to sell off the family jewels in the middle of deflationary crisis... It is wiser to develop state property and increase its value using smart financial resources to strengthen our economy."

However, three months on, and with repayment deadlines looming, Syriza has changed its tune on the issue. In April, the government completed their first privatisation deal, selling a 20-year horseracing gambling licence to a subsidiary of Czech-Greek company for €40.5m.

They are now in advanced talks with the China Ocean Shipping Company (COSCO) to buy a 51% stake in Piraeus Port, something which was supposedly a 'red line' for Syriza, while much more of Greece's infrastructure and real estate may soon be up for grabs.

As well as organising the sale of the Piraeus Port, the Hellenic Republic Asset Development Fund, known as Taiped has a range of state assets on their books from electricity and gas suppliers to airports. A spokesperson for the agency says that when Greece reaches a deal with EU, they expect things to advance rapidly. "Things are moving now, and it's expected that things will move much faster with the completion of the negotiations. Once the deal with the EU is completed, many things will happen quickly."

She explained that though Syriza has claimed to have limited the percentage of the Piraeus Port sale from 67% to 51%, this is not necessarily true. There are in fact ongoing discussions which would mean that if Chinese-owned COSCO are successful in their bid, they would be able to buy the remaining 16% in five years time, as long as all the investments promised in the concession agreement have been completed.

Another major sale which is pushing ahead is that 14 of Greece's 37 regional airports which include those on popular holiday islands Kos, Mykonos and Corfu. Fraport AG, a German transport company have offered €1.2 billion for the airports' lease and a sale is expected to go through by the end of this month. Fraport made the offer with Greek energy firm Copelouzos owned by entrepreneur Christos Copelouzos.

Another German company, Deutsche Invest Equity Partners, is in the final eight companies who have qualified for the next phase of the tender process for the acquisition of a 67% stake of Thessaloniki Port, the second largest in Greece. Taiped says that Germany, who are currently leading discussions with Greece for a new deal, are key investors. "With the airports, the most important thing after the price was having experience and Fraport had it," she said.

Among the other seven companies also bidding for the Thessaloniki Port is the billion-dollar British P&O Steam Navigation Company, Russian train operator Russian Railways, and International Container Terminal Services, a port management company established by Filipino businessman Enrique K Razon who has a personal wealth of $5.2 billion.

Three Olympic assets built for the 2004 Games - the Galatsi indoor arena and both the rowing and equestrian centers - are now on offer, perhaps unsurprisingly considering the huge cost of the Games, estimated to be €11bn. Taiped says a Greek real estate developer has shown interest so far.

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