Crisis Halves Number Of Billionaires to 49

These days, it seems the only thing harder than making a billion dollars in Russia is holding on to it.

The number of Russian billionaires has halved since last year, according to an annual ranking by Finans magazine, and the missing names read like a brief history of the financial turmoil over the past six months.

The ranking of Russia's 400 wealthiest individuals puts the number of dollar billionaires at 49, down from a record 101 last year and just below the 50 counted in 2006.

In all, the country's 10 richest people saw their combined wealth shed $75.9 billion since the magazine's survey last year, as oil prices plunged, financial markets skidded and the ruble fell, Finans said.

The magazine's sneak peek at the list, which is to be released Monday, reveals the names that have fallen out of the rankings — a "who's who" list of businessmen whose firms have been making headlines since the global financial crisis hit Russia.

Among those who have fallen from the ranks, Finans said, is Sergei Polonsky, whose Mirax Group is currently mired in super-expensive building projects as the real estate sector has been paralyzed by tightening credit and illiquidity. Last year, Polonsky was ranked No. 40 with a net worth of $4.35 billion.

The sector's other casualties include Don Stroi owners Maxim Blazhko and Dmitry Zelenov as well as Shalva Chigirinsky, whose companies Sibir Energy and Russian Land have been hit by a string of financial woes in the last six months.

The country's bankers took a hit as well as investment banks struggled with a market collapse and demand froze for products such as IPOs and debt issues, which were extremely profitable during the economic boom.

Troika Dialog owner Ruben Vardanyan is a billionaire no longer, according to Finans. Vedomosti reported last month that South Africa's Standard Bank, which was said to be in talks to buy a stake in Troika, valued the investment bank at $150 to $200 million.

Also dropped from the list was Alexander Vinokurov, whose KIT Finance failed to meet its obligations on a share repurchase deal, sparking a crisis of confidence among Russian brokers, and was effectively bailed out by the state in a takeover by Russian Railways and Alrosa.

In the 2007 ranking, Vardanyan and Vinokurov were worth $1.5 billion and $1.3 billion, respectively.

Other former billionaires include Sedmoi Kontinent owner Alexander Zanadvorov, Stolichnaya vodka tycoon Yury Shefler and Polymetal boss Alexander Mamut, the magazine said.

Last year's top spot was held by Oleg Deripaska, the 41-year-old founder of RusAl, the world's largest aluminum company, whose net worth was estimated at $40 billion. His fortunes have since tumbled as he was forced to cede stakes in several companies after their shares were pummeled.

Finans was keeping a tight lid on who it would name as the richest Russians ahead of their release, but an Ekho Moskvy reporter posted a Top 10 list on his LiveJournal blog Sunday, saying he had just received a copy of Finans magazine's Monday issue. The list, according to the blog, is topped by former Norilsk Nickel co-owner Mikhail Prokhorov with $14.1 billion. Prokhorov received $7 billion in cash as part of a deal for the 25 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel that he sold last April, before the crisis hit Russia. The list places Abramovich at second, with $13.9 billion, followed by Novolipetsk Steel chairman Vladimir Lisin ($7.7 billion), LUKoil chief Vagit Alekperov ($7.6 billion), Dagestani tycoon Suleiman Kerimov ($7.5 billion), Alfa Group's Mikhail Fridman, Norilsk Nickel main shareholder Vladimir Potanin ($5 billion), Deripaska ($4.9 billion), Uralkali owner Dmitry Rybolovlev, and metals mogul Alisher Usmanov ($4.5 billion).