Bad Billionaires

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett recently got 40 of the world's richest people to agree to donate half their fortunes to charity. Here are five guys they won't be hitting up anytime soon.

GERARDO MAGALLON/AFP/Getty Images; Interpol; MIKE CLARKE/AFP/Getty Images; MUSTAFA OZER/AFP/Getty Images; Dave Einsel/Getty Images

Joaquín Guzmán Loera

Country: Mexico

Estimated worth: $1 billion

Joaquín Guzmán Loera

Country: Mexico

Estimated worth: $1 billion

Notoriety: In 2009, Mexico’s most-wanted man became the second narcotrafficker to crack the Forbes rich list. (Colombia’s Pablo Escobar was the first in 1989.) Since escaping from a maximum-security prison in a laundry cart in 2001, Guzmán has overseen the rise of the Sinaloa cartel, which has raked in more than $20 billion in ill-begotten profit.

Guzmán is believed to be hiding in the Sierra Madre mountains. Despite his occasionally brazen public appearances — such as his 2007 wedding to an 18-year-old beauty queen, which was reportedly attended by hundreds of people, including local politicians — and the multimillion-dollar rewards for his capture offered by both the U.S. and Mexican governments, Guzmán remains on the loose. Part of this is due to his notorious cruelty — the Sinaloa cartel pioneered the now common use of beheadings to send messages to law enforcement and rival gangs — as well as his extensive patronage of law enforcement. Guzman has bragged of paying more than $5 million every month in bribes to police and politicians. The strategy is working: analysis of arrest patterns suggests that the Sinaloa cartel has been more effective than its rivals at infiltrating law enforcement.

Guzmán also has something of a taste for the flamboyant. On several occasions, he has reportedly entered restaurants with a team of armed guards and confiscated the cell phones of the other diners, then paid their tabs to compensate them for the inconvenience — after finishing his steak dinner.

Dawood Ibrahim

Country: India/Pakistan

Estimated worth: $6-7 billion

Notoriety: Ibrahim is remarkable not only for how he has straddled the worlds of organized crime and international terrorism, but the degree to which he has done so more or less in the open. An Interpol most-wanted notice for him in 2009 actually listed his home address. The Mumbai native began his organization, “D-Company,” as a teenager and built it from a small-time smuggling operation to one of the largest criminal syndicates in Asia by the end of the 1980s.

D-Company was initially an entirely secular organization, but Ibrahim became radicalized by a series of anti-Muslim riots in India in 1992. He rebranded the group with the objective of protecting India’s Muslim population and is believed to have organized the 1993 Mumbai bombings, which killed more than 200 people. Ibrahim moved his operation to Pakistan after the attacks.

Ibrahim is reportedly a major funder of the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, which is believed to be responsible for the 2008 Mumbai hotel attacks. D-Company also reportedly shares its smuggling routes with al Qaeda. India has requested his extradition and he has been designated a terrorist by the United States. But Ibrahim has also diversified into legitimate enterprises. He is believed to be heavily invested in real estate and construction throughout India and Pakistan and to have bankrolled a number of Bollywood film productions.   

Oleg Deripaska

Country: Russia

Estimated worth: $10.7 billion


 Deripaska’s rise is one of the emblematic stories of the mad scramble for wealth in early 1990s Russia. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Deripaska was a 23-year-old university student. Three years later, after a series of shrewd investments in the privatized Russian metals industry, he was waging a
n ultimately successful battle for control of a Siberian smelting plant, whose owner at one point aimed a grenade launcher at him.

Not that Deripaska was shy about using strong-arm tactics himself. In 2002, a Russian court awarded Deripaska a controlling stake in a rival paper company.   He sent a brigade of private security guards to ensure the takeover of the plant, according to press reports at the time. By 2008, he had built his Rusal empire into the world’s largest aluminum company and, in the process, became Russia’s richest man. (His position has slipped somewhat in the recent financial crisis.) His other business interests include insurance, car manufacturing, and electricity.

In 2006, the U.S. State Department denied him a visa to enter the United States.  The government did not publicly address why.  Press reports have indicated that Deripaska has been investigated by the FBI over alleged ties to organized crime. Deripaska has denied any such links. In 2009 he was allowed to enter the country twice, according to the Wall Street Journal, under special arrangement by the FBI. Deripaska has denied such an arrangement. British courts have also investigated Deripaska’s business relationship with Anton Malevsky, one of the most powerful figures in the Russian mafia. Deripaska was at the center of a British political scandal in 2008 when it was reported that he had entertained EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson, who had been instrumental in cutting aluminum tariffs that benefited Deripaska’s business. Senior EU officials have denied that Mandelson intervened on Deripaska’s behalf.

*This section has been updated to clarify several points about Deripaska’s biography. 


The Uzan Family

Country: Turkey

Estimated worth: Formerly $1.6 billion

Notoriety: The Uzans arrived in Turkey from Bosnia around 1910, building their fortune in construction and banking. By 2001, they had made their way onto the Forbes rich list. Cem Uzan, the family’s current patriarch, set up the country’s first private television network and founded an opposition political party, earning himself comparisons to Italy’s mogul-turned-prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi.

Unfortunately, Uzan also appeared to share some of Berlusconi’s predilection for shady business practices. At one point, the family was facing more than 100 criminal charges in the Turkish court system, ranging from libel to money laundering. But that was nothing compared with the swindle they pulled off on U.S. telecoms giant Motorola, which loaned companies controlled by the Uzans $2.7 billion in both cash and assets while trying to enter the Turkish telecoms market. Motorola never got a penny of it back.

Through its political connections and media influence, the Uzans were able to operate with impunity for years. But the family’s actively hostile relationship with Turkish Prime Minsiter Recep Tayyip Erdogan turned out to be its undoing. The Turkish government seized 219 of the family’s companies in 2004, after which the Uzans lost their spot on the Forbes list. Cem is currently hiding out in France, avoiding a 23-year prison sentence back home.

Allan Stanford

Country: United States/Antigua and Barbuda

Estimated worth: $2.2 billion in 2008

Notoriety: Charged in 2009 with orchestrating a Ponzi scheme in more than 140 countries, Stanford first made his fortune running his father’s real estate firm during the 1980s. After dad retired, Stanford moved his operation to Antigua in 1990. At its peak, Stanford Financial was managing $51 billion in assets. Stanford became one of the Caribbean island’s largest benefactors and most visible figures, earning himself a knighthood. The flamboyant Texan also became a major figure in the world of cricket, spending millions of dollars of his own money to sponsor tournaments throughout the Caribbean and promote the game in the United States. He was also a “lead benefactor” of the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, earning praise from former President Bill Clinton and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

Unfortunately, it was all built on a lie. Stanford had duped his investors for years, lying about the performance of their investments and the security of their deposits. U.S. authorities had reportedly been investigating Stanford for more than 15 years, but only stepped up their efforts after the conv
iction of fellow fraudster Bernard Madoff. Stanford is also reportedly under investigation for laundering money on behalf of Mexico’s infamous Gulf Cartel.     

Stanford is currently being held in the United States, awaiting trial on fraud charges. His lawyers claim that his health is deteriorating in prison and have asked a judge to grant bail.

Joshua E. Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy.

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