Forbes’ annual list of billionaires hit the streets this week, and there are more questions than ever swirling as to whether those eye-popping 10- and 11-figure estimates bear any relationship to reality.
Take the case of IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad. Last year, Forbes pegged his net worth at $3 billion. Bloomberg said it was $42 billion. To say the least, that’s a broad margin of uncertainty.
Meanwhile, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal — the Saudi prince known for his small mustache and his giant Boeing 747 personal plane — has taken public exception to Forbes’ latest estimate of his wealth. Despite the fact that a magazine staffer flew to the Middle East to personally survey some of his flashier holdings, the prince thinks they shortchanged him by $9 billion, and is cutting off all future communication with the title.
But if eagerly cooperative global titans and the founders of highly visible, public companies are the subject of so much confusion, how can Forbes really expect to pinpoint the wealth of the rest of the world’s super-rich? Remember, this is a group of people often inclined to use tax shelters, secret bank accounts and other financial sleights of hand to keep the true extent of their wealth private. (On the flip side, there’s Donald Trump.)
One way to answer that question is to look who is not on the list. Here are 10 probable billionaires that you won’t find in Forbes this month:
1. Vladimir Putin – According to a report drawn up by former Russian Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, Putin has access to 58 aircrafts, four yachts and nearly two-dozen homes. At the same time, some of Putin’s political allies have been showing up higher and higher on the Forbes list. So what’s Russia’s big man and oligarch maker worth? Political analyst and Putin critic Stanislav Belkovsky estimates $70 billion — if accurate, good for 2nd place in the world.
2. Paul Kagame – The president of Rwanda reportedly enjoys his own Bombardier Global Express jet – price tag $50 million — through his company Crystal Ventures, which allegedly controls much of the Rwandan economy. Crystal, with $500 million in on-the-books assets, publicly belongs to Kagame’s party, but is said to be controlled by the president himself. The company boasts large infrastructure concerns, real estate ventures, and mobile phone operations, and has been implicated by the United Nations in stealing mineral resources from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Would a full accounting of Kagame’s financial interests put him in the billion-dollar range? We’re guessing it might.
3. Kim Jong-un – North Korean’s newly anointed 28-year old overlord, the third son of Kim Jong-il, likely inherited the lion’s share of the family fortune upon his father’s death. South Korean intelligence officials say the family has $4 billion stashed in Luxembourg alone — and certainly there are many other assets. Calls to Dennis Rodman for comment have not been returned.
4. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman – This year Forbes removed the reclusive Mexican drug kingpin from the list on the grounds that he was spending more money on security for himself and his family — a logic that seems speculative, at best. Given that finding even a photo of Guzman is difficult, his personal finances seem well out of Forbes’ reach. But with a RAND Corporation report suggesting that Mexican drug traffickers make as much as $39 billion in profit each year, and Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel controlling an estimated 40 to 60 percent of the market, it seems reasonable to guess that he might still be a billionaire — even with a few more hired guns.
5. Jeffrey Epstein – He’s best known as a convicted sex offender with a taste for underaged girls. But the word “billionaire” is also often bandied about to describe this hedge fund manager who (prior to his legal troubles) rolled with Bill Clinton and various celebrities on his Boeing 727. Along with a 100-acre private island in St. Thomas, Epstein has a $50 million Upper East Side mansion. His fund has been known to run about $15 billion for wealthy clients, according to New York magazine. Even after extensive court proceedings, nobody really knows what he’s worth — but the math suggests that calling him a “billionaire pervert” is probably accurate.
6. Vivi Nevo – The largest shareholder in Time Warner, this Israeli venture capitalist’s holdings in public companies alone — including Goldman Sachs, eBay, Microsoft and News Corp — have been estimated at $500 million. But his all-in net worth — including swank personal compounds necklacing the globe — could easily be more than double that.
7. Ramon S. Ang – This Philippines-based industrial titan holds a nearly $700-million stake in Southeast Asia’s largest food and beverage company, San Miguel Corp. He is also chairman and CEO of the Philippines’ largest oil company, Petron Corp, and serves as the COO of Philippine Airlines. Toss in a bevy of interests in the mining, cement and hotel industries, and he seems like a safe bet to top $1 billion.
8. Larry Gagosian – Arguably the art world’s most influential dealer, Gagosian sells over $1 billion of art each year, according to the Wall Street Journal. He flies around the world on his own $40 million Bombardier Global Express jet and has properties in New York, Los Angeles, the Hamptons and St. Barts. But the real treasure is his personal art collection. Last year in Abu Dhabi, he exhibited pieces worth $1 billion.
9. George Economou - Previously estimated by Forbes to be worth $1.7 billion, Economou presumably fell off the magazine’s list this year because of the state of the Greek economy. But French authorities filed reports in 2010 then in 2012 saying they had seen Greek wealth measuring in the hundreds of billions of euros flowing into Swiss bank accounts. And the fact that his world-class art collection is still expanding, suggests he’s still a billionaire.
10. Wen Jiabao – Being the Premier of China doesn’t necessarily mean settling for a bureaucrat’s — or a Communist’s — bankbook. With large holdings in financial institutions, resorts, telecommunications and infrastructure, Wen Jiabao and his family have held assets worth at least $2.7 billion, according to the New York Times. What would Karl Marx say?