Unique piece of Arctic land goes on auction

The land can’t be sold without the Norwegian authorities’ approval.


The last piece of privately owned land in the strategic Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic is up for grabs, a property likely to entice China but which Norway does not intend to let go without a fight.

The archipelago is located between mainland Norway and the North Pole.

It’s in an Arctic region that has become a geopolitical and economic hotspot as the ice melts and relations grow frostier between Russia and the West.

For €300 million (about R6 billion), interested parties can acquire the remote Sore Fagerjord property in southwest Svalbard.

Measuring 60 square kilometres – about the size of Manhattan – the property is home to mountains, plains, a glacier and about five kilometres of coastline, but no infrastructure.

“It’s the last private land in Svalbard and to our knowledge, the last private land in the world’s high Arctic,” said lawyer Per Kyllingstad, who represents the sellers.

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“The Chinese are naturally potential buyers since they’ve been showing a real interest in the Arctic and Svalbard for a long time,” he said, adding that he had received “concrete signs of interest” from the country.

Norway’s Trade and Industry Minister Cecilie Myrseth said: “The land can’t be sold without the Norwegian authorities’ approval. Nor is it possible to hold negotiations about the property.”

That argument is based on clauses of an old loan granted by the state in 1919. Kyllingstad insists the clauses’ statute of limitations has expired.

The Norwegian state owns 99.5% of Svalbard and has declared most of the land, including the Sore Fagerjord property, protected areas where construction and motorised transport, among other things, are prohibited.

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But the sellers don’t see things that way and cite the 1920 treaty.

“All parties [who signed the treaty] have the same rights,” said Kyllingstad, noting that Norway had built housing, an airport and a harbour in Longyearbyen, the archipelago’s main town. “Imagine if Norway now adopted rules limiting the activities of Russian holdings,” he said.

“It would be World War III.”

According to Andreas Osthagen of the Fridtjof Nansen research institute, the Sore Fagerjord land has “minimal” economic value and its possible sale does not represent “a huge threat” to Norway.

But he noted, “owning land on Svalbard could have a strategic value in 50 or 100 years”.

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In the meantime, any mention of possible Chinese interest in Svalbard property raises “a red flag to force the Norwegian authorities to do something”.

In 2016, the government paid €33.5 million to acquire the second-last piece of private land on Svalbard, near Longyearbyen, which was also reportedly being eyed by Chinese investors.

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