Poor Russia's wealthiest dozen

SUN JOURNAL

Oligarchs: Their wealth irritates the nation's president, but the super-rich are holding on to their hefty slice of the emerging market economy.

November 09, 2003|By Douglas Birch

MOSCOW - President Vladimir V. Putin has made it crystal clear that he has no love for Russia's mega-wealthy, and he has worked hard since his election in 2000 to limit their influence.

But thanks to the bargain-basement sale of state assets to Kremlin insiders in the 1990s, Russia's super-rich still control a huge slice of their nation's economy.

Forbes Magazine estimated this year that there are 17 Russian billionaires, based on public documents. Most likely there are others, living here and abroad, whose wealth is hidden in offshore companies and discreet banks.

Most of the high-profile tycoons, called oligarchs, still work out of high-rise offices in Moscow surrounded by platoons of security guards. But in the past few years, several have fled overseas under pressure from prosecutors and police.

Here are short profiles of several of Russia's richest and most powerful:

Boris Berezovsky

Age: 57

Net worth: $3 billion.

Businesses: Former media and industry tycoon.

Biography: Mathematician who made a fortune in auto sales and went on to control Aeroflot and ORT television; adviser to former President Boris N. Yeltsin; architect of early policy on Chechnya; media empire helped elect Yeltsin and his successor, Putin; fell out with Putin shortly after election in 2000.

Pursuits: Kremlin gadfly.

Residence: London.

Vladimir A. Gusinsky

Age: 51

Net worth: $5.7 billion.

Businesses: Former owner of NTV, Russia's first independent television network, and Media-Most publishing empire.

Biography: Failed theater director who went into banking as Soviet Union collapsed; built a media empire; opposed Putin's presidency; in 2000, accused of fraud, briefly jailed and, reportedly, forced to sell his media holdings.

Pursuits: Broadcasts Ekho-TV, a U.S.-based Russian-language satellite television network that broadcasts around the world, but not in Russia, and is critical of Putin.

Residences: Connecticut, Spain and Israel.

Roman Abramovich

Age: 37

Net worth: Estimated from $3.8 billion to $7 billion.

Businesses: Former owner of Sibneft Oil, which he sold to Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky; investor in aluminum industry and Aeroflot; heir to parts of Berezovsky's former empire.

Biography: An orphan and college dropout who began oil trading in the early 1990s.

Pursuits: Sometimes mentioned as next target of prosecutors; retiring as governor of Chukotka region, across the Bering Strait from Alaska; recently purchased Chelsea soccer club in Britain.

Residences: Britain, a London home and a 450-acre country estate.

Mikhail M. Fridman

Age: 39

Net worth: $4.3 billion.

Businesses: Chairman of the Alfa Group Consortium, which owns Tyumen Oil Co., Alfa bank and other enterprises, including a cell phone company and supermarket chain.

Biography: A metallurgical engineer who made his fortune trading in oil and in the import-export business.

Pursuits: He is reportedly all business.

Residence: Moscow area.

Viktor Vekselberg

Age: 45

Net worth: $2.5 billion

Businesses: Vekselberg bought a large piece of Tyumen Oil and is chairman of Renova, a major aluminum company.

Biography: Born in Ukraine; studied railroad engineering before becoming an entrepreneur; conducted a hostile takeover of the Vladimir Tractor Factory in 1994 and hired a Harvard M.B.A. to run it.

Pursuits: Keeping a low profile.

Residence: Russia

Vladimir O. Potanin

Age: 42

Net worth: $1.8 billion.

Businesses: The poker-faced metals magnate created Uneximbank in 1991 and owns a major stake in Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest nickel producer.

Biography: A Soviet trade official who turned to finance in the early 1990s; purchased Norilsk Nickel in a murky auction in the 1990s for $310 million; last year, the company was worth an estimated $1.2 billion.

Pursuits: Once protested arrest of Gusinsky and criticized Putin; now has pledged fealty to the Kremlin.

Residence: Suburban Moscow.

Oleg V. Deripaska

Age: 35

Net worth: $1.5 billion.

Business: President of RusAl, which dominates Russian aluminum production; controls huge AvtoGAZ plant in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's second-largest auto manufacturer.

Biography: An engineer and economist, he fought with Abramovich for control of aluminum and metals industry in Siberia in 1990s; last summer, bought a huge chunk of Abramovich's aluminum holdings; about same time, prosecutors said they were reviewing the 2001 purchase by Deripaska and others of a bank, insurance company and steel manufacturer.

Pursuits: Staying on Putin's good side.

Residence: Moscow.

Mikhail Prokhorov

Age: 37

Net worth: $1.6 billion.

Business: Made his first fortune in oil, metals, engineering and telecommunications; now chairman of the board of Norilsk Nickel.

Biography: A graduate of the Moscow State Financial Institute, he worked in Soviet foreign trade banks, which often held large foreign currency reserves, before moving into banking.

Pursuits: Partying on the French Riviera, living the life of a billionaire bachelor.

Residence: Russia

Viktor S. Chernomyrdin

Age: 65

Net worth: $1.35 billion

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