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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Lisovsky Wants to Rule Russia's Roost

He runs Premier SV, once the country's biggest advertising agency, and the glitzy concert promoter Rise Lis's. He co-founded Muz-TV, which he used to push his "Vote or Lose" campaign to get Boris Yeltsin re-elected. And his name has surfaced in investigations of tax evasion and murder.

But these days Sergei Lisovsky, 40, has only one thing on his mind -- chicken.

It's not the recent ban on U.S. imports that has caught his attention. Lisovsky is in the final stages of a two-year plan to hatch a $70 million poultry farm with French poultry giant Duc SA.

"I asked my people to do a market survey of the different fields, and it turned out that the two most profitable markets are antiques and chicken," Lisovsky said in an interview in his posh office at the Olimpiisky Sports Complex.

"For a manager, it is not important in principle whether you are dealing with television production or with a chicken farm," he added. "In both places, you should have a creative approach and specialized knowledge."

Perhaps to help with the creative process, the soft-spoken businessman with flowing brown hair has surrounded himself with chicken. Soviet-era posters saluting chicken farmers are plastered over the walls, and his desk is lined with plastic chicken figures -- gifts, he said, from amused friends.

Also pinned on the wall is a rendering of a larger-than-life poultry farm planned for Barybino, a town on the southern outskirts of Moscow. The complex on 85 hectares of land is expected to produce 50,000 tons of chicken a year, or about 2 percent of the domestic poultry market.

Lisovsky said a groundbreaking ceremony for the ambitious project, which was first announced in late 2000, will be held within weeks and the first chicken will go on sale in December.

He has named the farm Mosselprom after the early Soviet agriculture monopoly, whose slogan "There's no place better than Mosselprom," by poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, remains well-known.

The $70 million startup investment is being put up by Duc Development International, a joint venture in which Duc has 25 percent, Dino Dinev, a Bulgarian-born movie producer and longtime friend of Lisovsky's, has 15 percent and a group of Lisovsky-controlled companies has 60 percent, according to Lisovsky. The Duc and Dinev stakes are combined in a French-registered company called Verneuil Finance.

Dinev was enthusiastic about the farm. "Who said that the same Soviet Union that sent the first man into space can't produce a decent chicken?" he said.

He said $20 million worth of Western equipment will be installed on the farm and eight French poultry experts will operate it.

Duc was more cautious, saying it has yet to give the final go-ahead for its involvement. "It is not definite," Duc chairman Francois Gontier said through his secretary.

He declined to elaborate.

Dinev said Duc had earlier expressed concerns about Lisovsky's reputation.

The French press had a field day about Lisovsky's past when word first broke that Duc and Lisovsky were in talks. Dinev said Gontier had read the stories and had needed reassurance that the chicken business was on the up and up.

"I reminded him that we had met with Agriculture Ministry officials, and it would be strange if they were all connected with the mafia," Dinev said.

What the French press was writing about was Lisovsky's rise to riches in the 1990s.

It is widely believed that he made his fortune as chief of ORT Reklama, which at one time had a monopoly selling airtime on ORT television.

In 1995, newly appointed ORT head Vladislav Listyev was murdered just as he was trying to root out shady advertising deals at the channel, and Lisovsky, who had a lot to lose under Listyev's drive, was considered a suspect. He was questioned shortly after the murder but never charged.

In 1996, Lisovsky organized the "Vote or Lose" campaign for Yeltsin, which aimed at getting out the youth vote. It included concerts throughout Russia, which were organized by Rise Lis's.

Right before the election, Lisovsky was detained leaving the White House with a cardboard box containing $500,000 in cash. Neither the source nor the destination of the money was ever made clear. An investigation into the matter was later quietly closed.

In December 1998, when many prominent businessmen became the targets of investigation during a war by then-Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov against the oligarchs, Lisovsky was accused of tax evasion, and his home was raided by the Tax Police. Nothing came of the investigation. The incident was followed shortly thereafter by a probe accusing him of invasion of privacy. That case was also later dropped.

Agriculture Ministry officials have only good things to say about the chicken project, which they believe could help wean Russia from imports. Up until the March ban, U.S. imports accounted for about 70 percent of local demand.

"Lisovsky's name has often been mentioned in connection with negative matters, but as far as agriculture is concerned, we can only talk about positive things," First Deputy Agriculture Minister Sergei Dankvert said at a joint news conference with Lisovsky to announce the farm in December 2000. "If there are people who have doubts about the project, they shouldn't have any."

Lisovsky said he wants to use his influence to defend domestic poultry producers.

"The Russian poultry producer is defenseless. A producer plans to sell chicken meat at one price, but then it grows in three months due to imports," said Lisovsky, who like many domestic producers advocates quotas on imported poultry.

He considers the poultry farm to be a new political venture, replacing, as it were, his failed bid to win a State Duma seat in 1999.

"When Russia says it is against the presence of U.S. bases in Uzbekistan and Georgia, no one cares. But when it imposes a ban on U.S. poultry, Russia is listened to," he said. "So chicken is also big politics."