Oligarch of the Glen: Russia's second richest buys £7m estate

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HE IS a gun-toting member of the super-rich Russian elite with a personal fortune of £5.4bn. Vladimir Lisin is also a former welder who has become his country's second-richest man with a place in President Putin's favoured circle.

But Scotland on Sunday can reveal today that the 49-year-old steel tycoon is also the new laird of Aberuchill Castle Estate, a prime slice of the Perthshire Highlands that he recently bought with 6.8m of "small change".

Lisin is a leading light in the exclusive group of fabulously wealthy oligarchs who made their fortunes when Russia's state-owned industries were privatised. Only Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea FC owner who compiled his 15.7bn stash in the oil and gas industry, outranks him in terms of cash in the bank.

Both have been among the new wave of rich tycoons now keen to snap up Scottish estates for sporting playgrounds, with estate agents conducting secretive helicopter visits to preserve their clients' identities.

But Lisin, a keen marksman and president of the Russian National Olympic Shooting Association, is the first of the Russian businessmen known to have made the decision to buy.

The sale of 16th-century Aberuchill Castle, a 3,300-acre property near Comrie, for 800,000 over the asking price is the highest amount paid for a Scottish estate this year.

The new owner bought the estate, which offers grouse-shooting, deer-stalking and game fishing, privately within days of its going on the market.

He should have no trouble paying for it, if he hasn't already. His company, Novolipetsk, Russia's biggest steelmaker, valued at 8.7bn, will sell shares on the London Stock Exchange for the first time this week. The sale is expected to raise more than 400m, and as Lisin owns 90% of the highly successful firm, most of it will flow directly into his pocket.

Scotland has become a popular hunting ground for wealthy Russian property investors, as they can buy trophy estates at what, to them, are bargain-basement prices compared with properties in the south-east of England.

They use the estates as family boltholes while in Britain or to treat friends and clients to top-class stalking, grouse-shooting and fishing.

Aberuchill, described earlier this year as a perfect Highland retreat, is spread over 3,300 acres of heather-clad hills and grouse moor overlooking Loch Earn. Although the castle was hit by fire a few years ago, it has been meticulously rebuilt. Its white-turreted baronial-style elegance is now combined with the best modern comforts.

Inside the immaculately decorated interior are five sumptuous reception rooms, a billiards room and 13 bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. Around a dozen estate houses and cottages, a farm and 704 acres of forestry complete the picture.

Locals say the castle was previously owned by an American. According to Scottish Land Registry documents, it was sold by Aberuchill Limited, a company which includes Edward Thiele, an oil executive from Houston, Texas, among its directors.

The documents also reveal that Lisin has gone to some lengths to conceal his purchase and his identity. The property was bought by Forestborne Limited, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands, a notorious offshore haven for companies that wish to conceal their ownership.

John Coleman, an estates expert with Knight Frank, which was not involved in the sale, said the Russians were the latest group of newly wealthy foreign buyers to develop an interest in Scotland. "Ten years ago it was Hong Kong expats coming home. Then there were the Dutch, and now the Russians. There's always a group of new buyers coming in with more money and that's great for investment for Scotland."

The attractions were the scenery and the lack of restrictions on buying land in the UK. "Unlike in some other European countries, there are no restrictions on how much land you can buy. There are also very few countries with our magnificent scenery and that really is a pull," Coleman said.

"We also have grouse and red deer to hunt and salmon to catch. You may be able to get better fishing in Russia but you have to stay in a tent. Here you can do all of these things while staying in a comfortable, 10-bedroom Victorian lodge."

Lisin was named as Russia's second richest man by Forbes magazine this year, trailing only Abramovich.

He started his career as a welder in a coal mine in 1975 but, in a classic rags-to-riches story, worked his way up to deputy manager of one of Kazakhstan's largest steel plants after attending university.

Lisin moved to Moscow in 1991 and joined an influential trading group called Trans-World which dominated the Russian steel and aluminium industries. When the company split up in 2000, he was left with a majority stake in the Novolipetsk steel operation, the third-largest producer in the country and renowned as Russia's most efficient business.

In Moscow, Lisin is considered to be among an exalted group of "good oligarchs," including Abramovich, who are allowed to increase their wealth in return for not upsetting the government. He appears to have avoided any major financial scandals, although a Novolipetsk non-executive director resigned last month after being charged in a criminal case.

Married with three children, he is well known in business and shooting circles but keeps his private life out of the media.

When asked about Aberuchill, Andrey Sidorov, Lisin's personal spokesman, said he could not "confirm or deny" the purchase.

So far, Lisin has not made much impression on nearby Comrie.

Gordon McCartney, chairman of Comrie Community Council, said: "There seems to be plenty of money being spent on the estate, but we haven't seen much of the new owner. All we see is black limousines with dark windows coming through the village."

Local councillor Colin Crabbie added: "Aberuchill has always been a bit of a mystery, but there have been a number of planning applications to do up houses on the estate. Hopefully that will be a good thing."