Italy’s government is to challenge the controversial sale of an unspoilt island off the Italian Riviera to a Ukrainian tycoon.
The island of Gallinara, which boasts a medieval tower and Roman shipwrecks around its coast, was recently sold for a reported €10 million to Olexandr Boguslayev, a 42-year-old business magnate whose family makes aircraft engines.
Locals fear they will no longer be allowed to tour the island by boat and go swimming and scuba diving in its crystal-clear waters.
Critics are objecting to the sale, saying the turtle-shaped island should have been bought by the State and opened up to public access, and Italy’s culture minister says he may intervene to block the sale.
The island has been a nature reserve since 1989 and there could be grounds for the government to object to the deal.
“Ministry officials are examining the documents,” said Dario Franceschini, the culture minister. “We will do everything we can because such a beautiful island should be accessible to everyone.”
The government is looking at exercising a right of first refusal to the purchase of the island, which lies about a mile off the coast of Liguria, in the northwest of Italy.
Riccardo Tomatis, the mayor of the nearby town of Albenga, said: “For us and neighbouring coastal communities the island is really important from a tourism point of view. It should be protected and we hope that it can be enjoyed by all.”
Even if the sale is confirmed, building development would not be allowed because of its status as a nature reserve.
For centuries, the island was owned by the Catholic Church, which constructed a Benedictine abbey on its rocky slopes.
Pope Alexander III sought refuge on the island in the 12th century from Frederick Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor.
During the Second World War, it was occupied by a battalion of Wehrmacht troops, who dug tunnels to store munitions.
Boasting a hilltop villa with a pool, for the last few decades it belonged to a consortium of nine Italian families, who sold it to Mr Boguslayev. He reportedly lives in nearby Monaco and holds citizenship from the Caribbean nation of Grenada.
The sale has attracted intense criticism. Italy should not be “a banana republic for sale to the highest bidder,” a commentator in Corriere della Sera newspaper wrote.
“Sure, there are private islands all over the world, but they are generally atolls that are hard to reach. Gallinara, in contrast, is eminently reachable by many people. Should it really be allowed to fall into the hands of a magnate?”