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Poor Russia's wealthiest dozen

THE BALTIMORE SUN

MOSCOW - President Vladimir V. Putin has made it crystal clear that he has no love for Russia's mega-wealthy, and he has worked hard since his election in 2000 to limit their influence.

But thanks to the bargain-basement sale of state assets to Kremlin insiders in the 1990s, Russia's super-rich still control a huge slice of their nation's economy.

Forbes Magazine estimated this year that there are 17 Russian billionaires, based on public documents. Most likely there are others, living here and abroad, whose wealth is hidden in offshore companies and discreet banks.

Most of the high-profile tycoons, called oligarchs, still work out of high-rise offices in Moscow surrounded by platoons of security guards. But in the past few years, several have fled overseas under pressure from prosecutors and police.

Here are short profiles of several of Russia's richest and most powerful:

Boris Berezovsky

Age: 57

Net worth: $3 billion.

Businesses: Former media and industry tycoon.

Biography: Mathematician who made a fortune in auto sales and went on to control Aeroflot and ORT television; adviser to former President Boris N. Yeltsin; architect of early policy on Chechnya; media empire helped elect Yeltsin and his successor, Putin; fell out with Putin shortly after election in 2000.

Pursuits: Kremlin gadfly.

Residence: London.

Vladimir A. Gusinsky

Age: 51

Net worth: $5.7 billion.

Businesses: Former owner of NTV, Russia's first independent television network, and Media-Most publishing empire.

Biography: Failed theater director who went into banking as Soviet Union collapsed; built a media empire; opposed Putin's presidency; in 2000, accused of fraud, briefly jailed and, reportedly, forced to sell his media holdings.

Pursuits: Broadcasts Ekho-TV, a U.S.-based Russian-language satellite television network that broadcasts around the world, but not in Russia, and is critical of Putin.

Residences: Connecticut, Spain and Israel.

Roman Abramovich

Age: 37

Net worth: Estimated from $3.8 billion to $7 billion.

Businesses: Former owner of Sibneft Oil, which he sold to Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky; investor in aluminum industry and Aeroflot; heir to parts of Berezovsky's former empire.

Biography: An orphan and college dropout who began oil trading in the early 1990s.

Pursuits: Sometimes mentioned as next target of prosecutors; retiring as governor of Chukotka region, across the Bering Strait from Alaska; recently purchased Chelsea soccer club in Britain.

Residences: Britain, a London home and a 450-acre country estate.

Mikhail M. Fridman

Age: 39

Net worth: $4.3 billion.

Businesses: Chairman of the Alfa Group Consortium, which owns Tyumen Oil Co., Alfa bank and other enterprises, including a cell phone company and supermarket chain.

Biography: A metallurgical engineer who made his fortune trading in oil and in the import-export business.

Pursuits: He is reportedly all business.

Residence: Moscow area.

Viktor Vekselberg

Age: 45

Net worth: $2.5 billion

Businesses: Vekselberg bought a large piece of Tyumen Oil and is chairman of Renova, a major aluminum company.

Biography: Born in Ukraine; studied railroad engineering before becoming an entrepreneur; conducted a hostile takeover of the Vladimir Tractor Factory in 1994 and hired a Harvard M.B.A. to run it.

Pursuits: Keeping a low profile.

Residence: Russia

Vladimir O. Potanin

Age: 42

Net worth: $1.8 billion.

Businesses: The poker-faced metals magnate created Uneximbank in 1991 and owns a major stake in Norilsk Nickel, the world's largest nickel producer.

Biography: A Soviet trade official who turned to finance in the early 1990s; purchased Norilsk Nickel in a murky auction in the 1990s for $310 million; last year, the company was worth an estimated $1.2 billion.

Pursuits: Once protested arrest of Gusinsky and criticized Putin; now has pledged fealty to the Kremlin.

Residence: Suburban Moscow.

Oleg V. Deripaska

Age: 35

Net worth: $1.5 billion.

Business: President of RusAl, which dominates Russian aluminum production; controls huge AvtoGAZ plant in Nizhny Novgorod, Russia's second-largest auto manufacturer.

Biography: An engineer and economist, he fought with Abramovich for control of aluminum and metals industry in Siberia in 1990s; last summer, bought a huge chunk of Abramovich's aluminum holdings; about same time, prosecutors said they were reviewing the 2001 purchase by Deripaska and others of a bank, insurance company and steel manufacturer.

Pursuits: Staying on Putin's good side.

Residence: Moscow.

Mikhail Prokhorov

Age: 37

Net worth: $1.6 billion.

Business: Made his first fortune in oil, metals, engineering and telecommunications; now chairman of the board of Norilsk Nickel.

Biography: A graduate of the Moscow State Financial Institute, he worked in Soviet foreign trade banks, which often held large foreign currency reserves, before moving into banking.

Pursuits: Partying on the French Riviera, living the life of a billionaire bachelor.

Residence: Russia

Viktor S. Chernomyrdin

Age: 65

Net worth: $1.35 billion

Businesses: Former chief executive officer and major shareholder in Gazprom, Russia's state-controlled natural gas monopoly, which produces almost one-quarter of the world's natural gas.

Biography: Rose from metalworker to become U.S.S.R.'s minister of Oil and Gas Industry from 1985 to 1989, when he set up Gazprom; 15 percent of the company was sold to employees and management at discount rates, and 35 percent to domestic investors at closed auctions in Siberian regions; served as Yeltsin's prime minister from 1992 to 1998; in 2001, Putin named him ambassador to Ukraine.

Pursuits: Collecting old cars; get-togethers with his two sons, each of whom reportedly owns 6 percent of Gazprom stock.

Residence: Kiev, Ukraine.

Rem Vyakhirev

Age: 69

Net worth: At least $1.8 billion.

Business: Former chief executive officer and current shareholder in Gazprom.

Biography: A one-time oil and gas engineer, Vyakhirev helped Chernomyrdin create Gazprom in 1989; replaced Chernomyrdin in May 1992; by 1996, he was reckoned Russia's most powerful businessman; served with the company until he was removed as chairman of the board by Putin in 2002.

Pursuits: Investor, amateur reindeer herder; daughter reportedly owns 4.4 percent of Gazprom; son Yuri is chief of a Gazprom subsidiary.

Residence: An estate in suburban Moscow, where he reportedly keeps reindeer.

Aleksandr Smolensky

Age: 49

Net worth: More than $200 million, probably considerably more.

Business: Banking and investment.

Biography: Once arrested for printing Bibles on state-owned presses in Soviet era; set up a building supplies business in the late 1980s.; later, founded SBS/AGRO bank, which failed during 1998 financial crisis, leaving debts of $10 billion and hundreds of thousands of devastated depositors; after fleeing briefly to Vienna, returned to Moscow; sold the remnants of his banking empire, Pervoye OVK, for $200 million in July

Pursuits: Giving investment advice. "I hope next time depositors will think twice before putting money in a bank with high deposit rates," he told the newspaper Kommersant earlier this year.

Residence: Vienna

Richest of the rich

Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky

Age: 40

Net worth: About $8 billion; Forbes Magazine says he could be Europe's richest man.

Businesses: Until last week, chief executive of Yukos Oil, world's fourth-largest oil company.

Biography: A former Young Communist League leader who built a banking empire amid the collapsing Soviet state; orchestrated auction of Yukos, to himself, for just $309 million in 1995; this summer, Yukos was worth an estimated $31 billion.

Pursuits: Philanthropist supporting teacher education programs and human rights groups; finances liberal Yabloko Party and other Putin opponents; rumored to be considering running for president.

Current residence: Matrosskaya Tishina (the Silent Mariner) prison in Moscow.

This material was compiled by Douglas Birch of The Sun's Moscow Bureau with information from Forbes Magazine, Kommersant and Novaya Gazeta newspapers, Sale of the Century by Chrystia Freeland; The Oligarchs: Wealth and Power in the New Russia by David E. Hoffman; CNN, BBC and wire services.

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