Steel baron Vladimir Lisin tops Russia rich list

MOSCOW Fri Apr 16, 2010 6:15am EDT

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Steel baron Vladimir Lisin was ranked Russia's richest man by Forbes magazine on Friday after a year in which the number of Russian billionaires doubled to 62 as resource tycoons restored their riches following the crisis.

Lisin, the 53-year-old owner of Novolipetsk Steel, more than tripled his fortune to $15.8 billion in the last year to head a top 20 dominated by the elite of Russia's steel, oil and mining sectors, Forbes said in its Russian edition for May.

Lisin, a clay pigeon shooting enthusiast and huntsman, replaced Mikhail Prokhorov at the top of the list. Prokhorov, a co-owner of gold miner Polyus and investment bank Renaissance Capital, saw his fortune rise to $13.4 billion.

Third on the list was Mikhail Fridman, whose interests in telecoms, retail and oil doubled his fortune to $12.7 billion.

Russia's economy, heavily reliant on oil, is recovering from its deepest economic slump in 15 years thanks to improved global consumer demand and higher crude prices.

The benchmark RTS stock index has doubled in value in the last 12 months, while the rouble is trading at 16-month highs versus the euro-dollar basket used by the central bank to guide monetary policy.

Forbes said the number of Russian billionaires almost doubled to 62 from 32 a year ago. The combined net worth of the 100 richest people was $297 billion, more than twice the $142 billion total of last year.

But Russia's rich have not returned to the levels of 2008, when their combined net worth was $520 billion and a $1 billion fortune was insufficient to secure a place in the top 100.

Then, Oleg Deripaska was the richest man in Russia. He ranked fifth on the 2010 list after tripling his fortune to $10.7 billion and securing Russia's biggest-ever private debt restructuring for his aluminum company, UC RUSAL.

Just ahead of Deripaska was another former richest man, Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich, who owns stakes in steel maker Evraz and Highland Gold Mining.

The only woman on the list was Yelena Baturina, wife of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was ranked 27th after her fortune -- acquired largely in the construction business -- rose to $2.9 billion from $900 million a year ago.

SELF-MADE BILLIONAIRES

Lisin, whose name means "fox" in Russian, is a qualified metallurgist and owner of one of Russia's most modern and profitable steel plants.

Other steel barons in the top 20 included Severstal owner Alexei Mordashov, Metalloinvest founder Alisher Usmanov, Evraz shareholder Alexander Abramov and Mechel owner Igor Zyuzin.

Maxim Kashulinsky, chief editor of the Russian-language edition of Forbes, said the fortunes of 64 of the richest 100 Russians included industrial assets dating back to Soviet times.

Some billionaires, such as LUKOIL President Vagit Alekperov and Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel owner Viktor Rashnikov -- ranked sixth and ninth respectively -- joined the financial elite when these assets were privatized.

But Forbes said only 12 on its list made their fortune this way. Others began as small-scale entrepreneurs after the Soviet Union collapsed and made enough money to buy much bigger assets.

"Prokhorov tie-dyed jeans, Abramovich traded rubber toys and Usmanov made plastic bags," Kashulinsky said. "Some of them to this day own gigantic industrial businesses and some sold them at a profit."

Thirty-six people on the list do not own any Soviet-era industrial assets. Of these, said Kashulinsky, only nine had clear links to the Soviet-era administration, leaving 27 self-made businessmen with no inherited assets at all.

"So the next time you hear someone say 'the oligarchs stole what belonged to the people', you can respond: 'Every fourth person on the Forbes list built their business from scratch'."

(Editing by David Holmes)

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