In the early hours of Saturday, 8th May, Egyptian-born tycoon Mohammed Al Fayed sold the iconic Knightsbridge department store, Harrods. Al Fayed has owned the luxury store since 1985, when he purchased it in a £615m takeover deal.Harrods is now in the hands of Qatari Holdings, the investment arm of the Qatar Investment Authority, which also has stakes in VW-Porsche and hotel chain Fairmont. The Gulf investment group is owned by the Qatari royal family and chaired by Sheikh Hamad Bin Jassim Bin Jabr Al-Thani, the Qatari Prime Minister.
The £1.5bn deal sees Al-Fayed retained as honorary chairman, however he will no longer have a hand in the running of the store. Ken Costa, chairman of asset managers Lazard International, who advised the Al-Fayed family trust on the deal, said: "In reaching the decision to retire, [Mohammed Al Fayed] wished to ensure that the legacy and traditions that he has built up in Harrods would be continued, and that the team that he has built up would be encouraged to develop the foundations that he has laid." It is reported that the deal was struck with Qatari Holdings as Al Fayed felt that they had the ‘vision and financial capacity to support the long term successful growth of Harrods’.
Qatari Holdings are only the fifth owners of the Harrods since it opened in 1840, despite allegations that Harvey Nichols’ owner, Dickson Poon and then-owner of British Land, John Ritblat have attempted to buy it in recent years. The store’s last owner, 77 year old Mohammed Al Fayed, has been something of a notorious character in British history. Having lived in the country for many years and owned the 90,000 sq m luxury store for twenty-five years, the multi-millionaire businessman has repeatedly refused a British passport. He also spent ten years promoting a campaign which argued that his son Dodi and Princess Diana were murdered in a conspiracy in 1997.
Harrods continues to defy the recession, as rich tourists flock to its 330 luxury departments, attracted by the week pound and the store’s infamous rich cultural heritage. The most recent figures available show that a record £752m was taken in January 2009, whilst profits dropped 15% to £50.3m, mainly due to an extensive refurbishment programme, with the English Heritage listed terracotta façade needing repairs at a cost of £2.5m. It is alleged that Qatari Holdings is interested in expanding Harrods as a global name, incorporating a worldwide internet shopping facility to its already extensive resources.