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2 Sep, 2008 08:22

Meet Russia’s first billionairess

Elena Baturina has been named Europe's eighth richest woman. She was the only Russian in Forbes magazine's list of Europe's super wealthy women. Baturina is Russia's richest woman and its only female dollar billionaire.

She's the head of the company “Inteco”, as well as being the wife of Moscow Mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, who has held the post from 1992 till the present day

A Moscow native (born March 8, 1963), on leaving high school, Baturina began her career as a worker at a plant where her parents worked.

She did not succeed in getting a degree from her first institute, but later got one studying at the Moscow Institute of Management.

She met her future husband, Yuri Luzhkov, in 1987 when they worked together in Mosgorispolcom, part of Moscow’s city administration. They got married in 1991, two years after Luzhkov’s first wife died of liver cancer in 1989.

Baturina founded her company Inteco in 1991. The company began as a plastics business but expanded into construction and construction materials. After Luzhkov became mayor in 1992, Inteco became the largest construction firm in the Russian capital.

Inteco’s growth was accompanied by many rumours. Her husband was even accused by sections of the media of corruption due to his wife’s company getting so many municipal contracts. Baturina herself repeatedly denied any connection between her business and her husband’s position.

Nowadays, in the face of Luzhkov’s probable resignation, Baturina is actively diversifying her assets. Recently Inteco sold its cement works and DSK-3, a producer of prefabricated buildings, for $US 1.1 billion. She owns hotels in the Black Sea tourist resort of Sochi, over 72,000 hectares of agricultural land in the Belgorod region, and also a factory that produces a million cans of sweetened condensed milk each year.

Business in Russia is not always smooth and easy. Just three years ago, on October 9, 2005, the executive director of Inteco-Agro Aleksander Annenkov was attacked in Belgorod by three assailants armed with axes. He survived. At the time Baturina had been having business problems in Belgorod, with her attempts to modernise farmland there being opposed by the local governor.

Just four days later, on October 13, 2005, Inteco’s lawyer Dmitry Steinberg was shot dead just outside his homel.

Last year, in February 2007, Baturina sued the Russian edition of Forbes magazine for defamation of character over a story about her business.

A spokesman for Inteco said the company was seeking more than $US 8,000 in damages after the magazine is said to have got its facts wrong about the company’s activities and implying that it benefits from state support.

In July 2008 Baturina’s press service denied reports she’d purchased a massive 90-room London house. Earlier there were reports that Elena Baturina had splashed around $US 100 million for the Witanhurst estate, Britain’s second-largest home behind Buckingham Palace.

At the same time there came news that Inteco had acquired a total of 1,500 hectares of land in Morocco. The company said it plans to build five resort complexes, including residential areas and a golf club.

Besides business success Baturina is an enthusiast of equestrianism and is President of the Equestrian Federation of Russia. She has two daughters with Luzhkov, Elena (born 1992) and Olga (born March 1994).

Russia’s richest woman’s worth is estimated at $US 4.2 billion, up from $US 3.1billion in 2007, $US 2.3 billion in 2006 and $1.1 billion in 2004.

Despite her wealth, Baturina was not mentioned in Forbes' list of Europe's most powerful women.