Oil rich Russian tycoons carve out German business empires

Buoyed by fast-paced economic growth and high commodity prices, Russia's new oil rich tycoons have stepped up a push to establish a foothold in Germany amid a boom in business ties between the two nations, reported dpa.

Indeed, apart from building stakes in a range of German industries from cosmetics, through to fashion, tourism, construction, energy, the media and shipbuilding, Russian entrepreneurs have also begun a drive into real estate surrounding Berlin turning dilapidated former grand Prussian estates into luxury villas and five-star hotels.

Moreover, the pace of Russian investment into Europe's biggest economy appears to be picking up.

Alexei Mordashov, head of Russia's biggest steelmaker last week said he was boosting his stake in TUI, Europe's leading travel group, while Russian Railways draws up plans to buy a stake in Germany's rail company Deutsche Bahn AG, due for privatization this year.

The size of the German market makes it attractive to investors such as those from Russia, with Germany also acting as "a gateway to other European Union states," said Oliver Wieck, who heads up the east committee of the Federation of German Industry.

"Russian investors can invest in areas, which are not available to them in Russia," he said.

Meanwhile, evidence continues to emerge that the Russian business offensive into Germany is gaining ground.

Russian billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, a key stakeholder in Russian energy giant Gazprom, has been reported to be considering boosting his holding in Germany's biggest bank, Deutsche Bank.

At the same time, KGB officer-turned businessman Alexander Lebedev has been weighing taking a 76-per-cent stake in another leading German travel company, Ozer Tours.

The sudden appearance of some of Russia's richest business barons on the share registrars of leading German companies also represents the latest stage in the development of the two nations' new economic ties, which began to take shape following the implosion of communism across Eastern Europe almost two decades ago.

After Germany ploughed vast funds into Moscow in the early days following the end of communism to help provide for Russian troops returning from what was once the Soviet empire, German industry began moving into Russia in the hope of the dawning of a new business age in the country.

This appears to have paid off with Germany now Russia's number one trading partner and a total of 4,500 German companies including giants such as Siemens, Bosch and BASF having set up shop in Russia to form a key part of the economic ties between the two countries.

In particular, Russia's booming car market has begun drawing in fresh investment from key German auto makers with Daimler weighing buying into a Russian truck company and both BMW and Volkswagen moving to boost sales in Russia.

German exports to Russia raced ahead by 25.4 per cent during the first quarter to help meet Russia's pent up demand for infrastructure development with Russia in a sense recycling oil money back into the world economy.

Despite the fragile global economic story that has taken shape this year, Germany and Russia continue to clock up solid economic performances with the two countries building a joint pipeline for future deliveries under the Baltic Sea.

Plans are underway in Moscow for the creation of a sovereign wealth fund capable of large-scale private equity investment. But for the moment the Russian oligarchs are in a sense filling the role that could be played by a major sovereign wealth fund.

While Russian investment has up until recently tended to focus on nations that once formed part of Moscow's Soviet empire, Deutsche Bank believes Russia is now the second biggest source of overseas direct investment in emerging economies.

To be sure, with Russian industry flushed with money, investment from the nation has been branching out into the world and as a result diversifying away from the oil, gas and metal sectors into other industries.

This is also a sign of the increasing role that German infrastructure and engineering know-how plays in the strategic moves by Russian entrepreneurs.

But in addition it reflects the aim of corporate Russia to Go West by opening up new markets, boosting profits and building new avenues of financing while securing raw materials and meeting their global ambitions.

Apart from investments in fashion house Escada and fertilizer materials, Russian conglomerate AFK Sistemam has been weighing up forging stakes in chipmaker Infineon AG and Deutsche Telekom AG, Europe's biggest telecoms company.

While Russian billionaire 40-year-old Oleg Deripaska has now built up about a 10-per-cent stake in Germany's biggest construction company Hochtief AG, Russian energy giant Gazprom owns a big chunk of German gas group Wingas. dpa amc mga

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