Is Vladimir Putin the Richest Man on Earth?

An interesting report at Bloomberg on the wealth that Vladimir Putin has accumulated via his stakes in Russian companies like Gazprom and Surgutneftegaz:

The media reports, which often cite one another, ultimately tend to rely on one primary source: a November 2007 interview given by a prominent member of Moscow’s chattering classes, Stanislav Belkovsky, to the German daily Die Welt. In the interview, he claimed that Putin “controlled” 37 percent of the oil company Surgutneftegaz and 4.5 percent of natural gas monopoly Gazprom. The $40 billion estimate of Putin’s fortune was simply the 2007 market price of these stakes.

“And these numbers are substantiated?” Die Welt journalist Manfred Quiring asked. “These numbers are correct,” Belkovsky replied, and that was that.

Interviewers regularly ask Belkovsky about the $40 billion number. “That figure could now have changed, I believe at the level of $60-70 billion,” Belkovsky told Maeve McClenaghan of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

There has never been the slightest bit of evidence that Putin actually owns stakes in Surgutneftegaz or Gazprom. The Western journalists using Belkovsky as a source either do not know who he is or print his allegations simply because they are colorful. “What game Mr. Belkovsky is playing — and on whose behalf — is unclear,” the Telegraph of London warned in a story copiously citing Belkovsky’s allegations.

If the upper tier estimates are true, then Vladimir Putin may be as rich (or even richer) than Bill Gates, whose estimated worth is around $70 billion.

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