In the wake of the authorities' full-blown legal assault on Mikhail Khodorkovsky's Yukos empire, the imprisoned magnate tumbled 276 places in this year's ranking, from No. 16 in the world to No. 292. Five of his closest associates dropped off the chart altogether.
While Forbes rated Bill Gates, with $46.5 billion, the world's wealthiest man for the 11th year in a row, English soccer enthusiast and Siberian oilman Roman Abramovich, came in at No. 21, with $13.3 billion, replacing Khodorkovsky as Russia's richest man.
Nine new Russian names, including that of the country's wealthiest woman, appeared on this year's list. Businessmen from Ukraine and Kazakhstan debuted on the list for the first time.
In all, the number of billionaires in the world rose to 691, from 587 last year, with a combined wealth of $2.2 trillion.
With 27 billionaires holding a combined wealth of $90.6 billion, Russia was second in the number of super-rich citizens only to the United States, which has 341 billionaires.
Last year Russia had 25 billionaires on the list, occupying the No. 3 country ranking.
"This year Russia was by far the most volatile," said Luisa Kroll, the editor in charge of putting together the magazine's annual list. "Clearly, politics played a role. Anybody having any association with Yukos was a loser."
Former Khodorkovsky associates Leonid Nevzlin, Mikhail Brudno, Vladimir Dubov, Platon Lebedev and Vasily Shakhnovsky simply vanished from the Forbes list this year.
Abramovich, on the other hand, only saw his fortunes rise -- by about $800 million from the year before, according to Forbes.
Abramovich's net worth is almost double the size of his nearest competitors'. Mikhail Fridman, one of the owners of Alfa Group, clocked in at $7 billion, tying him for Russia's second-richest man with steel magnate Vladimir Lisin. Both ranked No. 60 globally.
Oleg Deripaska, owner of Russia's No. 1 aluminum producer RusAl came in as the country's fourth-richest man, with $5.5 billion. Viktor Vekselberg, the TNK-BP director also known as a collector of Faberge eggs, ranked fifth with his $5 billion.
Yelena Baturina, a construction mogul and the spouse of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, became the first Russian woman to make Forbes' worldwide ranking. Baturina made her debut in Russian Forbes' domestic ranking last year. Fortune puts her worth at $1.3 billion.
Baturina's company Inteko controls as much as 20 percent of the capital's construction market, the magazine said. She is No. 25 among Russia's rich and famous and No. 507 worldwide, according to Forbes.
"The criteria for the rating are not identified clearly enough," said Gennady Terepkov, an Inteko spokesman.
"The first mention in the rating may have been a surprise. But subsequent mentions and a higher valuation of our assets are a reflection of the dynamic development of our company."
Alexander Lebedev, a State Duma deputy and majority owner of the National Reserve Corp., whose business ranges from banking to aviation, is also a newcomer on the list, with $1.6 billion.
"They are not largely mistaken," Lebedev said Saturday, referring to his worth as estimated by Forbes.
But he added that being ranked by Forbes is not very beneficial to Russian businessmen.
"In our country, the attitude toward big wealth is negative because our [oligarchs] prefer to spend money on themselves -- buying yachts, private jets and soccer clubs," Lebedev said. "State authorities check against the Forbes list."
But the Federal Financial Monitoring Service, which reports to the Finance Ministry, said it would not initiate probes on the basis of the Forbes list.
Investigations will be started only if requested by law enforcement agencies, the service's chief Viktor Zubkov said Friday at a news conference.
The withering legal assault against Khodorkovsky and Yukos has led Forbes to value his fortune at $2.2 billion, down from last year's $15 billion. His lawyers claim that his personal wealth is less than $100 million, Vedomosti reported Friday.
The Forbes list provides a clue as to the losses incurred by businessmen who held their fortunes in Yukos stock. Over the past year, the company's capitalization fell from $32 billion to $1.8 billion.
Apart from Khodorkovsky, most of the billionaires remaining on the list increased their fortunes thanks to growing oil and metals prices.
Russia's 27 richest accounted for nearly 17 percent of the country's gross domestic product.
"It is a reflection of just how centralized economic power is in Russia [compared to] other major emerging markets. While there are 27 Russian billionaires in the Forbes list, there are only 12 Indians and only two Chinese, despite their fast-growing economies," said Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Alfa Bank.
But Peter Westin, chief economist at Aton Capital, said the addition of nine new Russian names could also be traced to Yukos.
"Part of the story is people getting richer," he said. "But the other part of the story is people starting to record their income. The Yukos affair has created an environment where people feel pushed to record their incomes, companies to be more willing to open their books."
Ukraine appeared on the list for the first time this year. Rynat Akhmetov, who controls many of the country's biggest industrial enterprises, was ranked 258th in the world with a fortune of $2.4 billion. Next was Viktor Pinchuk, son-in-law of former President Leonid Kuchma, with $1.3 billion. Sergei Taruta, chairman of the board of the Industrial Union of Donbass came in as Ukraine's third-richest man, with $1 billion.
The Forbes list did not include Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who earned a fortune in Ukraine's energy industry during the 1990s.
"If she got the money because of her public position, she wouldn't be eligible," Kroll said. "But maybe we'll look into her next year."
The Kazakh entries are business partners from the Eurasia Group, a metals holding: Patokh Chodiyev, Alijan Ibragimov and Alexander Mashkevich. The three men share the No. 620 ranking and a net worth of $1 billion each.
(The Moscow Times 14.iii.05)