Sat, Dec 06, 2008 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE : Financial crisis can’t touch one Russian ex-oligarch

AP , NIZHNEVASILYEVSKOYE, RUSSIA

German Sterligov stands in his house in Nizhnevasilyevskoye, northwest of Moscow, on Nov. 22.

PHOTO: AP

The financial crisis has cost some Russian tycoons their fortunes, but one of Russia’s first multimillionaires says he hasn’t lost a kopek.

That’s because one-time boy wonder German Sterligov dropped out of the business world years ago and started raising sheep and other livestock on two farms outside Moscow.

“We’re in clover compared to the oligarchs,” he said. “I’ve got 100 sheep, a horse, a cow, some poultry and goats.”

Sterligov, 41, has no plans to return to the traditional capitalist road, saying his luxury-loving former colleagues will soon see the virtues of simplicity and self-sufficiency. At his log cabin about 96km northwest of Moscow one recent afternoon, hens pecked grain from the snow in front of the porch. He scolded his four sons — aged between four and 12 — for not feeding the chickens properly and messing up the stove.

He runs the farm with help from the boys, a teenage daughter, two employees and his wife, Alyona Sterligova, who wears a traditional Russian Orthodox head scarf.

Until 2004, Sterligov was, by his own accounts, a tycoon with hundreds of millions of dollars in the bank, dozens of businesses, offices on Wall Street and in London and a villa in Rublyovka, a Moscow suburb for the super rich. His business interests ranged from running a commodities exchange to making movies.

“It’s easier to say what we didn’t do — we never sold drugs, for one,” he said.

Now he and his family raise vegetables, sheep, goats and chickens, mostly for their own use. They also build peasant-style stools for sale to a Russian furniture company.

Sterligov’s exit from the high life began when he challenged former president Vladimir Putin in his 2004 re-election bid. The former tycoon, who now sports a long beard and brown leather hunting boots, claims he sank the bulk of his fortune into his campaign, but election officials denied him a place on the ballot.

In debt and out of favor with the Kremlin, Sterligov says he sold everything. He, his children and his wife, who was seven months pregnant, left Rublyovka that summer and pitched a tent in the forest outside Moscow — “the only free place to stay.”

From then on, he followed in the footsteps of other wealthy Russians from centuries past, including author Leo Tolstoy, who sought to return to the land in search of spiritual peace and Utopian dreams. With US$100,000 left from the sale of the Rublyovka mansion, Sterligov built three simple log houses and bought some sheep.

Sterligov, who made his first million by the age of 24, has long been drawn to grand gestures. He once tried to promote alcohol abstinence — a hard sell in Russia — and made a macabre offer to sell 50,000 oak coffins to the US before the Iraq invasion.

Deeply conservative, Sterligov has publicly denounced gays, abortion and women who wear pants. A female reporter was told to show up in a skirt or not come at all.

He also rails against computers and TV. The one-time jetsetter said he now lives happily behind barbed-wire fences surrounding his property, protecting his family from the corrupting outside world.

Teachers come from Moscow to teach his boys Russian and mathematics. Sterligov teaches them history himself and says other subjects are irrelevant. His 18-year-old daughter, the eldest child, studies history at Moscow State University.

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