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Billionaire investor Sam Zell told hedge fund managers that Russia should be near the bottom of any list of countries for investing because its culture is based on "suffering" and its legal system accommodates theft.

"The average age of male life expectancy is about 52 years old; the population is shrinking; it has a mentality of suffering and a kleptomania rule of law. If you make a list of where you'd want to invest that has to be far down the list," Zell told hedge fund managers at the annual SALT investing conference. "I went to Moscow for the first time in 1990 after the fall of the Berlin wall. I remember staying in Moscow and there was not a single light on when it got dark out. No retail. I was there subsequently and watched it evolve."

However, Mark Mobius, executive chairman, at Templeton Emerging Markets Group, took an alternative view of the country. "Russia has been an opportunity in the last few years. We've wanted to do more in Russia but couldn't because of sanctions. There are certain companies we could buy and others we couldn't. If sanctions are lifted I think there will be even greater opportunity because the consumer market is growing there and you have a lot of resources."

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Zell is author of the new book "Am I Being Too Subtle?"

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Editors' pick: Originally published May 17.