By Praveen Menon
DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranian investors have snapped up property worth $128 million in the world's tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa, in the last six months, according to data from Dubai's government, using cash in many cases as Western sanctions crimp access to banks.
Iranians were the second-largest buyers of luxury apartments and commercial space in the Burj Khalifa, after Indian citizens, in the first half of the year, Dubai's land department said on Tuesday.
Apartments in the 828-metre building range from 2,600 UAE dirhams ($710) to 3,800 dirhams per square foot, according to real estate brokers. This is much cheaper than average prices in prime locations in London which could range anywhere between $3,000 to $6,000 per square feet.
Foreign investors bought real estate assets worth 28.3 billion dirhams in the first half of 2012, up 36 percent over last year.
The land department said 358 Iranians had purchased the apartments over six months to June 30 as Dubai's property market shows signs of slowly stabilizing after home prices slumped by more than 60 percent from their peak in 2008.
"Iranians have problems getting finance, which is why they are mostly involved in cash buys," said a Dubai-based real estate broker who declined to be identified. "We have sold three floors on the Burj and this involved Iranian buyers."
Economic sanctions aimed at curbing Tehran's disputed nuclear program have cut off Iran's links to the international banking system, impacting its trade with Dubai.
In December, the U.S. government pressured Dubai-based Noor Islamic Bank to stop channeling billions of dollars from Iranian oil sales through its accounts.
Dubai, 150 kilometers (100 miles) across the Gulf, has been a major trading hub for Iran for more than a century with an estimated 8,000 Iranian traders and trading firms registered in the emirate.
"Iranian investors have been in Dubai for a long time and have money here which can be easily invested," Oliver Essex, a consultant with Powerhouse Properties, which specializes in Burj Khalifa property. "Iranians usually buy property through their company due to sanctions."
The land department added Britons were the third most active buyers while UAE citizens came in fourth. Pakistani buyers rounded out the top five.
(Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Mike Nesbit)