Sat, 12 Mar 2005

From: AFP

Filthy rich close gap on Bill Gates

Agence France-Presse, New York

It has been a good year for billionaires, with the super-wealthy increasing their collective net worth by US$300 billion, Forbes Magazine reported on Thursday in its annual ranking of the world's richest people.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates remained at the top of the ranking for the 11th consecutive year, with $46.6 billion, but the gap narrowed between Gates and star investor Warren Buffet, worth an estimated $44 billion.

The fastest-growing fortune belonged Indian-born British tycoon Lakshmi Mittal, number three on the list with a net worth of $25 billion.

Mittal, whose Mittal Steel is one of the world's biggest steelmakers, saw his net worth surge from an estimated $6.2 billion last year and his ranking jump from number 62 on the global list.

Mexican businessman Carlos Slim Helu meanwhile joined the top 10 as the fourth wealthiest individual, worth some $23.8 billion thanks to a $10 billion increase in his telecom fortune, Forbes said.

Overall, the number of billionaires grew to 691 in 2005 from 587 a year earlier, and their net worth jumped to $2.2 trillion from $1.9 trillion.

"Commodities like oil and steel played a big part in the increasing fortunes," Forbes said.

The list also saw growth in the number of countries with billionaires -- 47, including first-time entries from Kazakhstan, Poland, Ukraine and Iceland.

A total of 131 new billionaires came from 27 countries, with 69 from the United States and nine from Russia, including the first Russian female, Elena Baturina, whose construction fortune is estimated to be worth $1.3 billion.

Even though she spent five months in a federal prison, domestic diva Martha Stewart made the list for the first time, debuting at number 620 with an even $1 billion.

The top 10 richest were not as dominated by the United States as in previous years, with five Americans compared to eight in 2004.

Of the 691 billionaires, 388 are self-made, Forbes said, and 18 are high school dropouts.

Seventeen people made their way back onto the list, while 30 from last year's list fell off and 14 died.

The founder of Russian oil giant Yukos who is languishing in a Moscow jail, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, saw his fortune fall $12.8 billion, making him the biggest loser. He ranked 292nd on the list with an estimate worth of $22 billion.

Forbes counted 68 women billionaires, seven of whom are self- made.

The average age of the billionaires was 64 with 29 under 40, and 220 billionaires over 70. The youngest was German Albert von Thurn und Taxis of Germany, heir of a royal family fortune with a net worth of $2 billion.

Forbes noted that U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson increased his net worth at an average of $1.6 million an hour.