Italian Real Estate Agent Admits Buffett Greek Island Claims False

Updated | An Italian real estate company has admitted that claims that it had purchased a Greek island with billionaire investor Warren Buffett were fabricated, despite initial insistence that they had legal documents proving the sale took place.

On Monday, Proto Enterprises, a company owned by Italian real estate agent Alessandro Proto and based in London, claimed that the company had purchased St Thomas island along with Buffett, one of the world's richest men, for 15 million euros. The company added there were plans to develop real estate on the island, which is not far from Athens.

However, Buffett denied the claim on Tuesday, telling the Omaha World Herald newspaper, which is owned by Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway, by email that: "Until the reports started coming out, I had never heard of the guy who is making the claims about the Greek Island."

Berkshire Hathaway, also denied that the purchase had taken place, or of hearing of Proto Enterprises, or the island in question in an email to Newsweek.

But Proto stuck to their guns on Tuesday, claiming that Buffett had purchased the island privately, rather than through Berkshire Hathaway, and claiming that Berkshire Hathaway was denying the claim because of "delicate political and economic disputes." They did not to clarify which political or economic disputes they were referring to.

"[The] Proto Organization confirms the sale to Warren Buffet," a company spokesperson said in an email to Newsweek, claiming they had documents proving that the sale took place. They declined to share the documents with Newsweek. "We understand the sensitive time politically and economically, but we can not allow this situation... We are not afraid to face Warren Buffett," they added.

On Wednesday, after the company gave conflicting accounts to the media, Newsweek received an email from the same address, claiming to be Alessandro Proto himself, admitting that the story had been fabricated and saying that the company's claims had been a "sociological experiment", orchestrated by him. Proto predicted a meeting between himself and Buffett, and an economic bounce for Greece as a result of his actions.

"From a lie I was bringing money back into a country that does not have money," he said. "You think I will not be able to meet [Buffett]? You'll see," he added. 

St Thomas is located in the Saronic Gulf near the Port of Piraeus, the largest Greek sea-port and one of the largest in the East Mediterranean sea-basin. 45 minutes from Athens by ferry and 20 minutes from Corinth, the 1.2 sq km island is uninhabited, according to Private Island Online, a real estate site for private islands across the world.

Proto had said the pair had planned to build a real estate development on the island, according to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA-mpa), who initially reported the story on Saturday.

A Proto representative told Spiegel Online: "Greece is currently very attractive for investment in the development of real estate."

The website Public Islands Online markets Greek islands as the "ultimate status symbol, evoking images of sunglass sporting shipping magnates sipping champagne on the deck of enormous yachts. In reality, Greek islands are relatively affordable, costing as little as $2 million [1.8 million euros] - less than a ski chalet in Aspen or a walk up on the Upper East side."

ANA-mpa reported that American actor Johnny Depp also purchased a Greek island late last week for 4.2 million euros. The island of Stroggilo is located in the Aegean Sea near the popular Marathos island.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are also reported to have expressed interest in the Greek islands.

This article has been updated to include an admission from Proto Enterprises that their initial claims were fabricated. It was previously updated to inlclude a response from Berkshire Hathaway as well as comments by Warren Buffett to the Omaha World Herald denying the purchase with Proto Enterprises.

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