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Russia: Youthful Billionaires Storm 'Forbes' List

Roman Abramovich is Russia's richest, with an estimated $19 billion (epa) March 9, 2007 -- There are now more Russian billionaires than ever before -- and they're getting younger.

According to the latest billionaires' rankings published on March 8 in the U.S. "Forbes" magazine, Russia has seen the largest increase in the number of billionaires: from 34 in 2006 to 53 in 2007.

And at an average age of 46, Russian billionaires are the fresh-faced members of the pack.

Defying Catergorization

Luisa Kroll, who oversaw this year's European rankings, says Russian billionaires don't fit into either of the two established categories: "inherited" or "self-made."

MORE: Coverage in Russian from RFE/RL's Russian Service.

"[From Russia] there were 19 new faces and also one high-profile returnee, Boris Berezovsky. Fascinating to me is that the Russians are on average 46 years old. That's 16 years younger than the average 62 year old billionaire," Kroll says.

"None of them technically inherited their fortunes, either though, depending on how you classify their ability to gain some of these assets on the cheap. We haven't quite come up with the term to describe that."

The wealthiest among Russia's nouveau riches have made their fortunes in mineral resources, particularly in the oil and gas sectors.

But there are also billionaires, who have made their fortunes in banking, telecom, gambling, fertilizer, and retail industries.

Boris Berezovsky, the London-exiled Russian tycoon, has again made it to the list after being absent for several years. Berezovsky was the first billionaire from Russia who made the "Forbes" list back in 1997.

How They Got Rich

The richest Russian on the list is the 40-year-old oil magnate Roman Abramovich, whose wealth is estimated to be $18.7 billion. Abramovich has topped the "Forbes" list of Russian billionaires for the last three years.

Steve Forbes, who is "Forbes" CEO and editor in chief, said that the increase of Russian billionaires is one of the most notable elements in the 2007 rankings.

"Germany is second with 55, but Russia now has 53 billionaires. And even though they're still two behind Germany, the net worth of the Russian billionaires exceeds the net worth of the German billionaires. Prosperity is the best revenge," Forbes said.

In many cases, it's still unclear exactly where the money came from.

Finding out can prove difficult -- and sometimes dangerous. In 2004, "Forbes" Russian edition editor Paul Klebnikov was gunned down in Moscow in an apparent contract killing. There was much speculation that the murder was related to his inquiries about Russia's wealthiest people.

However, Luisa Kroll says that in some cases there is an increasing amount of transparency:

"Because so many of the Russian tycoons are listing their companies, both, at home in Russia, but also overseas on the London Stock Exchange in particular, there's a lot more transparency. Once you see a lot of these fortunes being taken public, then it becomes much easier to start valuing the private fortunes because you have a real base of reference," Kroll says. "As well you are starting to see a different type of fortunes being made. As Russia does well, you start to see retailers coming out of that country, a gambling tycoon coming out of that country."

From The Former Soviet Union

Other countries also debuted on the list. Romania and Serbia, each with one entrant, are newcomers to the billionaires' list. Poland increased its presence from three in 2006 to five billionaires in 2007.

Ukraine, with seven billionaires and Kazakhstan, with five, are the only other countries from the former Soviet Union to have entrants in the 2007 rankings.

The United States still leads the pack: 415 billionaires in 2007 with a total net worth of $1.36 trillion dollars. And the 51-year-old Bill Gates, the founder of software giant Microsoft, is the world's richest person for the 13th year in a row.

All in all, according to "Forbes," there are a record 946 individuals in the world whose personal fortune exceeds the $1 billion mark.

RFE/RL Russia Report

RFE/RL Russia Report

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