Secretive Swede becomes Estonia’s largest forest owner

14.02.2013, 09:17

Swedish businessman Jonas Wahlström is now the largest private forest owner in Estonia and now owns about 23,000 hectares of land, mainly forest, in Estonia, writes Äripäev.

Wahlström has been buying land in Estonia for about a decade, but is extremely secretive about his business and does not say what is his purpose.

When Äripäev contacted Wahlström he refused to give any comments. Also Rüllo Paas, the only Estonian board member of Metsnik OÜ, the company owned by Wahlström, refused, saying that he had no authorization. „But he is hard to reach. He is often hunting and it’s hunting season now,” said Paas about Wahlström.

However, last week Wahlström agreed to give an interview to Swedish business newspaper Dagens Industri that is the parent company of Äripäev, and shed some light on his business.

Wahlström’s company Metsnik OÜ that belongs to him and his family has 64 pages of registered properties in its name in Estonia

Second largest forest owner is Metsamaahalduse AS that owns 22,000 hectares of land, according to CEO Juhan Kütt.

Kütt says that Metsnik has an office in Pärnu in the same building as

Metsamaahalduse, but there is very little activity. „They seem to buy forest and hold it. It’s very different of what we do,” added Kütt.

Jaanus Anu, board member of Erametsakeskuse SA, says that he has heard of Metsnik OÜ, but not of Wahlström.

Wahlström who is known in Sweden as a supersecretive businessmen and now lives in an undisclosed location in Southern Europe told Dagens Industri that he forecast a rapid rise in the price of land and forest. „It was in 1987 and since then I have been investing in land,” he said.

Metsnik is now the largest landowner in Saaremaa that owns thousands of hecatres of land, mainly in Leisi municipality. According to the property register, the company owns 700 properties in Saaremaa alone.

The fact that they know nothing about the plans of such a large landowner is worrying some natives in Saaremaa.

Ludvik Mõtlep, head of Leisi municipality, says that he knows nothing about the Swede. „But there is clearly buying frenzy going on here. We have thought if we could  stop it somehow, but the answer is no. The worst thing is that we don’t know what’s the plan of buying all this land.”

Mõtlep says that one strange aspect is that Metsnik is often buying land that has been cleared of forest. „Trees are felled, access to the land is left as it is. There is no re-forestation or anything. I don’t understand why they do it. It seems strange that they are buying cleared land,” he added.

Also Juhan Kütt says that a lot of land sold in Estonia has been cleared of forest. „We have been looking at these offers. I think that Estonians do not have such a long investment plan. This seems to be an investment from a fund or something,” he said.

One reason why local residents of Saaremaa are worried is the fact that in 2010 the local newspaper Saare Hääl wrote that Swedish company Ekovind AB planned to put up wind farms on forest and agricultural land of Metsnik. The two companies had signed a contract for 6,000 ha of land, mainly on Saaremaa. The planning is being managed by Baltic Wind Energy, subsidiary of Eolus Vind AB.

Board member Peeter Kukk says that the planning is in the pipeline and did not wish to comment. He suggested to contact Metsnik. „I am not interested about publicity. I am sorry that you are writing about it,” he said.