Number of Russian Billionaires Hits New High

Good news for art auctioneers, yacht brokers and Kensington estate agents: Russia’s oligarchs are bouncing back – and there are more of them than ever.

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Russia boasted 114 dollar billionaires at the end of last year, according to an annual ranking of the country’s richest 500 published on Monday by Finans magazine.

The new record – the previous peak was in 2007, when there were 101 billionaires – represents a remarkable comeback for a breed that seemed endangered when Russia’s stock market hit rock bottom in February 2009.

But the recovery is not entirely complete.

The top 10 Russians in 2010 were together worth $182 billion – up 30 percent from $139 billion in 2009, but still below 2007’s peak of $221 billion.

Their resurgence is explained partly by a 20 percent increase in the Russian stock market last year.

It also reflects strong growth in Chinese demand for raw materials – still the root of the wealth of Russia’s richest.

The top of the list is dominated by Russia’s “steel kings” – owners, or sometimes ex-owners, of sprawling metals plants.

Number one, as last year, is Vladimir Lisin, low-profile chairman of the board of NLMK Steel, based in Novolipetsk, with an estimated worth of $28.3 billion.

Second is Mikhail Prokhorov, who sold his shares in Norilsk Nickel at the top of the market in spring 2008 – and thus was the only oligarch with any cash to spare when the markets collapsed.

Entering the top three is Alisher Usmanov, majority owner of Metalloinvest, another metals company, and a shareholder in London’s Arsenal Football Club.

Oleg Deripaska, head of aluminum company Rusal, which floated on the Hong Kong stock exchange last year, is fourth, with an estimated fortune of $19 billion.

That is a striking revival for an oligarch who entered the crisis particularly heavily leveraged.

Roman Abramovich, the Chelsea FC owner who sold his Sibillioneft oil company in 2005 but now has big steel holdings, was in fifth place – the first time Russia’s one-time richest man has been outside Finans’ top three since its rankings began in 2004.

Russia actually lost more billionaires than any other country during the financial crisis; the total, according to Finans, dropped to 49 at the end of 2008, before rising to 77 in 2009.

This was mainly because of widespread use of shares as collateral for loans, which multiplied losses when the market soured.

The Finans list records one astonishing fall from grace: Elena Baturina, wife of former Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was sacked from his post in September, fell farther than anyone – 47 places, to 94, with her fortune halved to $1.1 billion.