Steppe forward: the Ukrainian buying up Edinburgh's Charlotte Square
HE IS the latest contestant in the real-life game of Monopoly being played out in one of Scotland's most prestigious squares.
• Charlotte Square
A little-known Ukrainian property tycoon can today be revealed as the mystery figure behind a string of big-money purchases in the capital's Charlotte Square.
It emerged yesterday that Yury Lopatinsky, a leading figure in Moscow's financial scene since the mid-1990s, is the key player behind three deals, including the purchase of the National Trust for Scotland's flagship headquarters.
His investment fund, which is based in Bermuda, has recently joined forces with another Bermuda-based firm, Fordell, to snap up two other major chunks of Charlotte Square, which is also home of Bute House, official residence of First Minister Alex Salmond.
Senior sources at Edinburgh City Council said they understood that Mr Lopatinsky had made a "long-term commitment" to invest in the city and was believed to be eyeing a number of other sites, including on Princes Street. The purchases on Charlotte Square are thought to be his first foray into the UK property market.
• Edinburgh New Town's jewel in the crown
Fordell said the strategy with the three properties on Charlotte Square was to restore them as prestigious office spaces and help re-establish the area as a major hub for financial services in the city.
The newly snapped up sites – at 13-14 Charlotte Square and 18-23 Charlotte Square – were brought from a UK-based investment fund, JO Hambro, for an undisclosed sum within the past few weeks. They are occupied by major firms including Dickson Minto, Allied Irish, Deloitte and BNP Paribas.
Mr Lopatinsky has recently set up a base for his firm First Mercantile Capital Partners at nearby Melville Crescent, in the city's West End, after apparently relocating to Edinburgh with his wife and four children about three years ago. However, property industry sources in the capital say little is known about the publicity-shy businessman.
He has led a host of Moscow-based property and finance firms, including the Russian Federation Fund and CAIB Investment Bank Russia, forming First Mercantile Capital Partners in 1998.
Many of the other prestigious properties in Charlotte Square are owned by Edinburgh-based millionaires Walter Scott and Sir David Murray, the owner of Rangers FC.
Mr Scott, a reclusive former nuclear physicist, hit the headlines nine years ago when it emerged he was buying up a string of properties in the square. He is thought to own 1-4, 15-17 and 44-46, with Sir David's empire controlling numbers 9-11.
The National Trust for Scotland sold its headquarters for 8.75 million and is due to relocate from its Georgian townhouses on the south side of Charlotte Square to new offices at Hermiston Quay, in the west of the city, in October.
One property source said that although the trust had lost money on the building, it had recouped much more than expected from last year's sale.
The two other sites on Charlotte Square – which were previously owned by Northern Irish firm WG Mitchell before it plunged into administration last spring – are also said to have been bought at "well over" their market value.
One property insider said: "The commercial property market has been extremely quiet across the city in the wake of the property crash two years ago.
"These purchases are among the most significant anywhere in the city. Although little is known about who has bought them or what their plans are, they are a bit of a shot in the arm for the city and its ability to emerge from the recession.
Yury Lopatinsky apparently sees them as long-term investments and is in little doubt that they will pay dividends when the market recovers."
A spokesman for Fordell said it was being "advised" by Mr Lopatinsky's company.
He added: "Edinburgh is a first for both companies, although Mr Lopatinsky has lived here for a few years. Although there are no plans in with the council for these properties, the idea is very much to bring financial services companies back to Charlotte Square."
Tom Buchanan, economic development leader at Edinburgh city council, said: "We are always pleased to see that people are willing and prepared to invest in property in iconic locations in the city, and Charlotte Square is certainly one of those areas."
Neither Mr Lopatinsky nor First Mercantile Capital Partners could be contacted yesterday.