VIENNA: For property buyers in the market for a stately pad and with a few million dollars to spare, a Swiss canton has announced plans to put a string of castles on the market. But politicians and heritage watchdogs fear the castles will end up in the hands of Russian oligarchs or Arab sheikhs who will damage the country“s cultural legacy by making tasteless „upgrades“.
They are also angry the properties will disappear into private hands and no longer be accessible to the public. The castles, some of them more than 1000 years old, are owned by the canton of Bern, which uses them to house museums, art collections and council offices. But the local authority has announced it will put 13 properties on the market because of their high maintenance costs. More cantons are expected to follow suit.
The emotions aroused by the issue have reached the Government. „Local people identify themselves with the ancient castles, some of which are integrated into the coats of arms of towns and cantons,“ said Ivo Zemp, a spokesman for the Department for Preservation of Historical Monuments. „For them, a purchase by a Russian oligarch or any person not respectful of their history would be tantamount to having their town church sold off.“ Drawn by Switzerland“s reputation as a tax haven with highly secretive banking laws, nouveau riche Russian multi-millionaires have been investing in lavish properties.
Magnus Meier of LoftHome, which specialises in exclusive properties, said: „Russian buyers have a different mentality from other foreign investors. They are not looking for discreet retreats, but are interested in top-priced properties that are very visible manifestations of their financial status.“