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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

IKEA Chief Frets That Spat May Hurt Business

Itar-TassKamprad in Moscow on Thursday
Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of Sweden's IKEA furniture giant, said he hoped the row over the removal of a Soviet-era statue in Estonia would not spoil his booming Russian business.

Swedish-based IKEA has invested $2.4 billion in opening eight shopping centers in Moscow and other cities. It plans eventually to raise the number to 50.

The dispute erupted last week when Estonia, under Soviet rule for nearly 50 years, removed the statue revered by Russia as a symbol of its sacrifices in World War II against Nazi Germany.

"I hope that this is not going to affect the extremely good relationship at all levels we have built in Russia, and I regard it as a brief disruption and hope we can go further after this is resolved," Kamprad told a rare news conference Thursday.

European Union member Sweden was dragged into the dispute when a group of protesters outside Estonia's Embassy in Moscow mobbed the Swedish ambassador's car.

Kamprad, who himself was once a member of a Swedish pro-Nazi group but later apologized for it, said history should not be mixed with business.

"I think it is a little dangerous that we are preoccupied with things that happened a long time ago," Kamprad said.

IKEA, the world's largest furniture retailer, opened its first store in Russia with queues of shoppers in March 2000, only days before Vladimir Putin was elected president, and has since seen its business expand rapidly.

"We, business people who run around Russian forests, stand on the ground and deal with practical matters, we try to avoid things from the past," said Kamprad, 81, the world's fourth-richest man with a fortune estimated at $33 billion. "A lot has changed in Russia in the past 20 years, mostly for the better."

Kamprad, who started in business as a young boy selling matches to neighbors in southern Sweden, said he was going to tour Russia and call on IKEA's Russian suppliers to boost their production.

"We want to make them understand that now it's time to make an effort," Kamprad said.