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Foreign Investments Jumped 50% in 2003

With two of the country's richest men behind bars and three more in exile, it may seem unsafe to hold a spot among Russia's billionaires. But according to Forbes magazine's 18th annual ranking of the world's wealthiest people, Russia's share of billionaires has risen to 25, up from 17 last year.

For the first time Russia has more billionaires than Japan, making it the country with the third largest group of billionaires, behind the United States, with 279, and Germany, with 52.

For the 10th consecutive year Bill Gates, with $46.6 billion, was named the world's richest man.

Moscow, with 23 resident billionaires, is only eclipsed by New York, with 31.

The combined value of Russian billionaires' assets grew from $35.5 billion to $79.4 billion, as most of the country's super-rich doubled or tripled their worth.

Although the figure is almost the size of this year's federal budget, it is only some 4 percent of the $1.9 trillion that the world's richest 587 people are worth, according to Forbes.

When determining who to put on the list, Forbes calculated the worth of shares owned.

"People made it to the list not because they have large bank accounts, but because they have large stakes in various companies," said Paul Klebnikov, editor of Forbes Russia, which is scheduled to make its debut later this year.

For the fourth consecutive year former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovsky retained his position as the country's richest man. His assets grew from $8 billion to $15 billion, making him the world's 16th-richest person and the only Russian in the top 20.

Khodorkovsky was arrested in October on charges of tax evasion and fraud.

His fellow Yukos shareholders -- Leonid Nevzlin, with $2 billion, and Mikhail Brudno, Vladimir Dubov, Platon Lebedev and Vasily Shakhnovsky, each owning shares worth $1.8 billion -- also continued to climb up the ranks.

Lebedev, former chairman of Group Menatep, was arrested in July and, like Khodorkovsky, has been jailed while he awaits trial on fraud and tax charges.

Even though the state has frozen most of Yukos' shares pending the case's outcome, "until they are taken away, Forbes counts them as part of [Khodorkovsky's] net worth," the magazine said.

Since July all major Menatep shareholders, including Nevzlin, Dubov, Brudno and Shakhnovsky, have been charged with fraud or tax evasion.

Shakhnovsky was convicted by a Moscow court but set free in February. The remaining three major shareholders have been put on an Interpol wanted list and are currently living in Israel.

Despite the legal assault against the company, Yukos has seen its market capitalization grow from $19.7 billion in December 2002 to $27.8 billion a year later. It is now at $33.9 billion.

"Perhaps the most remarkable thing is that in spite of the Yukos affair, the fortunes of Russian billionaires went up," Khlebnikov said.

The list of Russian billionaires is heavily dominated by oil, gas and metals moguls.

Roman Abramovich, the country's second richest man, whose Millhouse Capital holding controls Sibneft oil major, saw his fortune swell from $5.7 billion to $10.6 billion and is now world's 25th wealthiest person.

Russia's No.3 for a third consecutive year is Alfa Group's Mikhail Fridman, whose worth edged up from $4.3 billion to $5.6 billion. Alfa Group's Tyumen Oil Company, or TNK, signed a $6.75 merger deal with BP.

Overall 14 Russian billionaires have large stakes in oil companies. As oil prices remained high throughout 2003, their personal worth continued to rise.

The top newcomer to the list is Vladimir Lisin, whose $3.8 billion made him Russia's sixth and the world's 124th richest man. He owns a majority stake in Novolipetsk steel mill.

Other newcomers include TNK shareholder German Khan, LUKoil's Leonid Fedun and Nikolai Tsvetkov, Gazprom's Vyacheslav Sheremet and Rem Vyakhirev, MDM Group's Andrei Melnichenko and Sergei Popov and metals mogul Alexander Abramov.

Co-founders of MDM bank Melnichenko and Popov are Russia's youngest billionaires at age 32.

Melnichenko is one of the few who didn't make his fortune selling natural resources.

Another billionaire who didn't build his empire around oil and gas extraction is Vladimir Yevtushenkov, worth $1.5 billion, whose telecom giant AFK Sistema controls a 50 percent stake in MTS, the country's largest cellular company.

As Russian companies' shares remain "massively undervalued," the number of local billionaires is likely to rise this year, Klebnikov said.

"Overall Russia remains the most productive breeding ground for billionaires," he added.

In addition to the 25 Russian billionaires there are also several foreign nationals that made their fortunes here.

Russian-born Sibneft president Eugene Shvidler, worth $1.9 billion, is a U.S. citizen and wasn't counted among Russian billionaires this year by Forbes.

Two Soviet emigres -- Israel's diamond king Lev Leviev and the United States' Leonard Blavatnik -- both have significant interests in Russia and the CIS.




Russians on Forbes' List
Rank '04 ('03) Name Worth
in $ billions
'04 ('03)
16. (26) Mikhail Khodorkovsky 15 (8)
25. (49) Roman Abramovich 10.6 (5.7)
73. (68) Mikhail Fridman 15.6 (4.3)
85. (222) Vladimir Potanin 4.9 (1.8)
90. (256) Mikhail Prokhorov 4.8 (1.6)
124. (-) Vladimir Lisin 3.8(-)
136. (348) Alexei Mordashov 3.5 (1.2)
143. (278) Oleg Deripaska 3.3 (1.5)
143. (147) Viktor Vekselberg 3.3 (2.5)
186. (329) Vagit Alekperov 2.7 (1.3)
277. (386) Leonid Nevzlin 2.0 (1.1)
293. (386) Eugene Shvidler* 1.9 (1.1)
310. (427) Mikhail Brudno 1.8 (1.0)
310. (427) Vladimir Dubov 1.8 (1.0)
310. (427) Platon Lebedev 1.8 (1.0)
310. (427) Vasily Shakhnovsky 1.8 (1.0)
342. (427) Vladimir Bogdanov 1.7 (1.0)
377. (278) Vladimir Yevtushenkov 1.5 (1.5)
406. (-) German Khan 1.4 (-)
437. (-) Leonid Fedun 1.3 (-)
437. (-) Nikolai Tsvetkov 1.3 (-)
472. (-) Vyacheslav Sheremet 1.2 (-)
472. (-) Rem Vyakhirev 1.2 (-)
514. (-) Andrei Melnichenko 1.1 (-)
552. (-) Alexander Abramov 1.0 (-)
552. (-) Sergei Popov 1.0 (-)
* Listed as U.S. citizen residing in Moscow on 2004 list.

(The Moscow Times 1.iii.04)

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