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Russian billionaire list grows to 52, nearing Germany

Russia's surging banking, retail and metals industries created 19 new billionaires as the former communist country challenges Germany for the European title in Forbes magazine's annual rich list.

Brothers Alexei and Dmitry Ananyev, who sold a stake in their Moscow-based lender ZAO Promsvyazbank to Commerzbank AG last year, are among the newest of Russia's 52 billionaires, the third most in the world after America's 415 and Germany's 54, according to the annual Forbes survey. Russia's economy is expanding for a ninth year, driving demand for mortgages, electronics and imported food. That has fed the fortunes of the owners of retailers such as OAO Magnit, the country's second-largest supermarket operator, and Eldorado, its largest electronics chain.

„Without doubt, wealth generation on a large scale will continue as the Russian economy expands, new sectors emerge and businesses consolidate,” said Ed Kaufman, incoming head of investment banking at Moscow-based Alfa Bank. „Russia will very soon overtake Germany on the Forbes list.” Alfa owners Mikhail Fridman, German Khan and Pyotr Aven are all on the list, with $12.6 billion, $8 billion and $3.6 billion, respectively.

Russia already has surpassed Germany by one measure. Led by Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich's $18.7 billion, Russia's billionaires are worth a collective $282 billion, versus Germany's $245 billion, though Germany's $2.9 trillion economy, Europe's largest, is three times bigger than Russia's.

The surge in the number of billionaires in the former Soviet state mirrors the widening wealth divide, where the richest 10% of the population owns 15 times more than the poorest 10%. Political parties and religious organizations last week urged the government to close the gap. Commodities have formed the backbone of most of the fortunes made in Russia, the world's largest producer this year of oil, natural gas, nickel and palladium and one of the five biggest producers of gold, steel and aluminum.

While Mikhail Khodorkovsky and the co-owners of OAO Yukos Oil Co. dominated the Russian list four years ago, metals companies now account for the bulk of the biggest fortunes. The surge in metals prices has catapulted businessmen including OAO Vyksunsky Metallurgical Plant's Anatoly Sedykh and OAO TMK's Dmitry Pumpyansky into this year's list. At least 20 Russian billionaires derived most of their wealth from metals. Khodorkovsky topped the Russian Forbes ranking in 2003 with $15 billion. He and his partner Platon Lebedev are now serving eight year prison terms for fraud and tax evasion, sentences they say are retribution for opposing the Kremlin. With commodity wealth filtering down and helping to boost incomes and demand for consumer goods and credit, new billionaires are being created in banking and retail.

The Ananyev brothers and Magnit founder Sergei Galitsky are all worth $1.7 billion. Igor Yakovlev of Eldorado, which sells products ranging from dishwashers to digital music players, is a step behind with $1.6 billion. Roustam Tariko, owner of Russian Standard, a bank and vodka brand, more than doubled his wealth to $5.4 billion. The construction boom is also creating billionaires. Filaret Galchev, owner of EuroCement, the nation's largest producer of cement, more than tripled his fortune to $2.4 billion as demand for housing and offices drives prices for building materials higher.

Russia's only female billionaire, Elena Baturina, also built her fortune on the construction industry. The wife of Moscow Mayor Yuri's Luzkhov's fortune climbed to $3.1 billion from $2.3 billion last year, after selling her cement assets to EuroCement. (Bloomberg)