Billionaire club shrinks Asia's rich hit by economic woes

SINGAPORE: Asia's richest people have been hit by the global economic crunch, with 14 names from the region dropping out of a US magazine's global list of billionaires, but some newcomers joined the exclusive club. 

Hong Kong's Li Ka-shing, who goes by the humble nickname “Superman,” kept his status as Asia's richest person with a net worth of US$7.8bil (RM29.6bil), down from US$10bil (RM38bil) last year, Forbes magazine said yesterday.  

The 74-year-old self-made tycoon with interests ranging from utilities to telecommunications ranked 28th on the 2003 Forbes World's Billionaires List, predictably headed by US software king Bill Gates. 

His son Richard Li, 36, has an assessed worth of just US$1bil (RM3.8bil) – a mere 427th in the world rankings. 

“A weak dollar helped keep some fortunes aloft, but overall economic woes continued to plague much of Asia,” Forbes said in a statement. “Real estate values fell further, exports contracted and bankruptcies are on the rise,” it said, adding that 32 Asian billionaires saw their net worth decline. 

The number of billionaires in Asia in 2003 shrank to 61 from 70 last year, and 14 who were on last year's list were absent in the current edition. 

Six of those dropped were Japanese, reflecting the malaise in the world's second biggest economy, but Asia had some good success stories. 

Thai beverage entrepreneur Chaleo Yoovidhya, whose sugary Red Bull energy drink keeps millions of people perked up, made it to the list with US$1.1bil (RM4.2bil), for a ranking of 386th. 

Malaysia's media and telecommunications magnate Ananda Krishnan, 64, was also cited for raising hundreds of millions of dollars from the public offering of his cellular phone firm Maxis. He was worth US$1.6bil (RM6.1bil), Forbes said, and took 256th place. 

Li Ka-shing may have topped the list in Asia, but he still has a long distance to cover if he hopes to catch up with Bill Gates, whose net worth came in at US$40.7bil (RM155bil), down from US$52.8bil (RM200.1bil). Gates also topped the list of richest individuals last year, and is one of 222 Americans out of the 476 billionaires from 43 countries on the current list. 

The collective wealth of billionaires on the list this year was worth US$1.4 trillion (RM5.3 trillion) – equal to the gross domestic product of Britain, Forbes noted. 

Ranked behind Li in Asia is Japan's Nobutada Saji, 57, whose family-owned business, dominant in the beverage sector, earned him a wealth of US$7.1bil (RM27bil), followed by Hong Kong developers Walter, Thomas and Raymond Kwok of Sun Hung Kai Properties, assessed to be worth US$6.6bil (RM25bil).  

Next on the list is India's software mogul Azim Premji, 57, who controls the Wipro group and had a net worth of US$5.9bil (RM22.4bil), according to Forbes

In Asia, Japan still had the largest number of billionaires with 19, followed by 11 in Hong Kong, and seven in India. Some billionaires were included on the basis of family net worth, others as individuals. 

The five Singaporeans on the list are led by Khoo Tech Puat, a low-key 86-year-old tycoon who made his fortune in banking and ranked 137th in the world with an estimated worth of US$2.6bil (RM9.9bil).  

Next in Singapore's honour roll were property magnates Kwek Leng Beng, 62, and Ng Teng Fong, 74, with US$1.7bil (RM6.5bil) each at 236th position. 

Malaysia had four on the list, led by world 97th-ranked Robert Kuok, 80, whose global empire includes Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper and the Shangri-La hotel chain, with a worth of US$3.4bil (RM11.4bil). 

South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand had two each, and Indonesia one. 

Lee Kun-hee, 61, of the Samsung industrial group, is South Korea's richest man with a fortune of US$2.8bil (RM10.6bil) making him world number 123, followed by candy man Shin Kyuk-ho, 80, with US$2.2bil (RM8.4bil) at number 177. 

Ethnic Chinese were the richest Filipinos: Lucio Tan, 68, worth US$1.9bil (RM7.2bil) with a stable that includes tobacco plantations, alcohol, a bank and Philippine Airlines, and shopping mall king Henry Sy, 78, with US$1.2bil (RM4.6bil).  

Tobacco magnate Rachman Halim, 55, was Indonesia's sole Forbes list billionaire with a family wealth placed at US$1.4bil (RM5.3bil). – AFP 

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