Billionaire boom for Asia: survey

BEIJING —

Asia experienced a billionaire boom last year, with more than 200 people from the continent seeing their net worth pass into 10 figures, a Chinese publisher said Tuesday.

A total of 824 Asians were included among the 1,867 people named as dollar billionaires on the Hurun Report’s global rich list.

That was an increase of 216 on the previous year, accounting for just over half the overall rise of 414.

Among individual countries, the United States led with 481 billionaires, the most in the world, followed by China’s 358, it added.

At the top of the table, U.S. technology giant Microsoft’s co-founder Bill Gates overtook Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim as the world’s richest person, the luxury magazine publisher said.

“The U.S. economic recovery and an IT boom have driven the world’s billionaires to record levels,” Hurun Report chairman Rupert Hoogewerf said in a statement accompanying the survey.

The richest person in mainland China—property magnate Wang Jianlin—shot up to 26th spot on the global list with his net worth doubling over the past year to $25 billion. He ranked 72nd last year, according to the report.

Hoogewerf told reporters that 90 Chinese billionaires held “senior political advisory positions”, including 31 delegates to the National People’s Congress, China’s rubber-stamp parliament, and three representatives to the last Communist Party Congress.

“I think it’s a co-option… it’s part of the whole package of being successful,” he said.

“They would like access to the political elite, plus the political elite wants to hear their opinions, because they are big taxpayers and they are big employers.”

But inclusion on a Hurun rich list can be a mixed blessing for wealthy Chinese, intensifying public and government scrutiny of them and their companies.

Some have subsequently been investigated or imprisoned, among them Huang Guangyu, who was proclaimed China’s highest net worth individual three times, most recently in 2008.

Huang was jailed for 14 years in 2010 for illegal business operations, insider trading and corporate bribery.

Businessmen “don’t really want to be on the list”, Hoogewerf admitted, but said they were becoming more willing to talk about their wealth as they expand their activities overseas.

The world’s dollar billionaires had a total wealth of $6.9 trillion, more than Japan’s entire GDP, the report said.

Gates replaced Slim, chairman of mobile phone carrier America Movil, as the globe’s wealthiest individual with his net worth rising 26% to $68 billion as of Jan 17, it said.

U.S. investment guru Warren Buffett and Amancio Ortega, founder of Spanish textile giant Inditex, which owns global fashion brand Zara, ranked second and third on the Hurun Global Rich List 2014, with assets of $64 billion and $62 billion respectively, it showed.

Slim and his family took fourth spot, after their wealth fell nine percent year-on-year to $60 billion due to currency and share price movements, the report said.

Slim remained the world’s richest person with assets of $73 billion on the 2013 ranking by U.S.-based Forbes magazine, followed by Gates on $67 billion. It listed a total of 1,342 billionaires.

(c) 2014 AFP

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