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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 July 2006, 17:53 GMT 18:53 UK
The oligarch who gave it all up
German Sterligov
Mr Sterligov is deeply committed to his Orthodox Christian faith
A man who became Russia's second official millionaire following the collapse of communism has abandoned his wealth to live as a peasant in a remote part of the country.

German Sterligov was only 24 when he founded the company in his own name, and, taking advantage of a lack of regulation, swiftly built a financial empire with offices in London and New York.

He later attempted to run for the Russian presidency.

But now, 15 years after he made his first million, he has quit and opted to live a traditional peasant lifestyle deep in the Russian countryside with his wife and five children.

"My life has never been better - I still can't believe I have such a full and interesting life," he told BBC World Service's Outlook programme.

"The turkey chicks have just hatched - that's our exciting bit of news right now. We have found happiness as a family - and I can still hardly believe we managed to escape Moscow, with all of its mercenary atmosphere, the envy and the hustle.

"I can hardly describe the state of mind we're in, any more than you can describe the taste of ice cream. You have to taste it to know it."

New capitalist

Mr Sterligov now lives in a small cottage, which he describes as "a Russian stove, windows, walls and a ceiling".

He also has two tractors, a bulldozer and an old Toyota - although in winter, the farm is only accessible by horse-drawn cart. The nearest house is 11km (seven miles) away.

German Sterligov
University dropout
Named first company Alisa, after his dog
Became deeply religious (Orthodox) in 1996
Launched highly profitable coffin business
Staunch nationalist and amateur historian
Campaigned on anti-abortion, pro-death penalty platform
Had 2003 presidential bid blocked by Kremlin
There is no electricity, and he is now trying to wean himself off the mobile phone.

But he said that even when he was wealthy, he did not live the typical lifestyle of the Russian mega-rich.

"We did not have elephants or swimming pools," he said.

"But it is true, we always lived in the richest, most elegant and exclusive neighbourhoods, in large, expensive houses."

Outside of Moscow, he had properties and offices in Battery Park near Wall Street in New York, and in Curzon Street, central London.

Mr Sterligov achieved success by borrowing unsecured cash from financial institutions still struggling to get to grips with a new, capitalist system.

He invested in stocks and set up an international trading company. Within three months he had paid back all the money he owed.

In his heyday German Sterligov employed more than 2,500 people. But that has now dwindled to just two - both labourers, who teach the Sterligovs how to do things such as build walls and fix fences.

Happier family

Mr Sterligov sold up after his political ambitions had come to nothing. He had begun with a campaign for a governorship in Siberia, followed by an effort to be mayor of Moscow and finally Russian president.

"I basically wanted to change the life of the Russian people for the better," he said.

In such an urgent situation there is no time for discussion - this is when the head of the family, the man, has to make all the decisions
German Sterligov
"I wanted to bring my vision to the country, to create a better way of life. But I was unsuccessful, and I came to realise that even though I cannot be there for my country in this way, my family still needed me - and I could achieve change on this level."

He explained that he had built up huge debts because of the cost of his political campaigning.

As a result, he sold his house in Moscow, all his properties and stock, and paid back his debts. He then went camping in the forest, and built a house with the money left after everything else was sold.

"In such an urgent situation there is no time for discussion - this is when the head of the family, the man, has to make all the decisions," he said.

"It was hard for my wife, she wasn't used to the life of the peasant, she was used to the life of the millionaire. Now she is grateful, because my kids live a normal, real life. My family is definitely happier."

Mr Sterligov's children are educated at home, as he believes that allowing them to go to school would "just corrupt them". They will not be allowed to attend university for the same reason.

"Universities are full of depravity - they would just pick up moral corruption there. So it's out of the question," he said.

Mr Sterligov is a staunch nationalist and became deeply religious 10 years ago - although he did not want to talk about this, describing it as "so personal".

"I don't have any money left - all I have is the money in my pocket. And I have geese, some cattle, a ram, and now, my turkeys.

"We are almost totally self-sufficient. All I have to buy in is sugar, salt and tea, and occasionally bread, when we are too lazy to mill our own flour."

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