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Why Are China’s Rich ‘Billionaires’, but Russia’s ‘Oligarchs’?

China’s billionaires and Russia’s oligarchs have been in the media lately, due to a variety of business transactions, between these two allies and around the world, not to mention all the absurd sanctions the West has been piling on Russia over the last year and half.

Always suspicious of the mainstream media behind the Great Western Firewall, I asked myself,

Why are the rich Chinese guys called billionaires, while the Russian ones are known as oligarchs?

My suspicions were aroused, because oligarch is very pejorative. Oligarchs govern an oligarchy, which is defined as,

A form of government in which all power is vested in a few persons or in a dominant class or clique; government by the few.

Hmm… Does that sound like Russia today, or more like the United States? I then raised my eyebrows reading this definition of oligarch, on Google,

Oligarch: (especially in Russia) a very rich businessman with a great deal of political influence. (image by www.google.com)

Thus, at least in the English language, the very negative connotation of an oligarch is now officially linked to images of Russians. I always tell my students: words are powerful things.

To get to the bottom of this cognitive dissonance, that superrich Chinese and Russians are given very disparate appellations, I decided to do some research – to find out the truth. I created two tables, one of China’s Top Ten Billionaires http://www.forbes.com/china-billionaires/list/ and another one with Russia’s Top Ten Billionaires. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Russian_people_by_net_worth For China’s wealthiest, I read their biographies in Chinese on Baidu and in English on Wikipedia. For Russia’s richest, I referred to English Wikipedia and a few other websites.

First, the Chinese:

China’s Top Ten Billionaires
Name Age Company Field Past Education Connections Dirt
He Xiangjian 72 Midea Appliances Entrepreneur High School CPC None
Lei Jun 45 Xiaomi Smartphones Entrepreneur BS IT NPC 2013 None
Li “Robin” Yanhong 46 Baidu IT US IT US MS IT Self-Made None
Li Hejun 47 Hanergy Solar Power Mr. Mysterious Late life PhD Self-Made? None
Liu Qiangdong 40 JD.com IT Entrepreneur BA Lib. Arts Selftmade None
Ma “Jack” Yun 50 Alibaba IT School Teacher BA Ed. Self-Made None
Ma Huateng 43 Tencent IT Entrepreneur BA Lib. Arts Self-Made None
Wang Jianlin 60 Wanda Real Estate Climbed Company Ladder BA after PLA PLA & CPC None
Wang Wenyin 47 Amer Mining, Copper Entrepreneur High School Self-Made None
Zong Qinghou 69 Wahaha Food Processing Entrepreneur High School NPC 2013 Back taxes?
Note:
CPC: Communist Party of China
PLA: People’s Liberation Army
NPC: National People’s Congress
Dirt: any kind of known fraud, embezzlement, collusion, organized crime, theft, etc.

At first glance, a number of characteristics stick out. Three of China’s richest people are older, while all the others are 50 or younger. Six of the ten are in technology fields (IT, solar and smartphones). Most of them got their start to the top by being entrepreneurs, which is the classic path around the world. The other tried and true method is like Wang Jianlin, who worked his way up the company ladder, the hard way.

Three of them didn’t go to college and two others went to university later in life. One of them, Li Hejun, of Hanergy, has almost no information about him, even in the Chinese press, which really stands out.

Only two of them can be construed as having the right connections, to make their way to the top, He Xiangjian and Wang Jianlin, via the CPC and the PLA. Two others, Lei Jun and Zong Qinghou, were recently elected to China’s National People’s Congress, but only long after they became billionaires.

In the Dirt category, only one out of ten has anything questionable about their business dealings, at least which has been made public. Mr. Zong Qinghou is rumored to owe some pretty significant back taxes. He’s rich enough that he could just cut them a check. But it looks like for now, instead of being arrested, he his paying them back quietly. So, it would appear that China’s ten richest came about their success, without overtly committing any illegal acts.

Now let’s look at Russia’s Top Ten:

Russia’s Top Ten Billionaires
Name Age Company Field Past Education Connections Dirt
Alekperov, Vagit 64 Lukoil Hydrocarbons Climbed Company Ladder BS Eng. Privatization, Self-Made None
Fridman, Mikhail 51 Alfa Consortium Entrepreneur BS Eng. Government Fraud
Lisin, Vladimir 59 Novolipetsk Steel Climbed Company Ladder BS Eng. Privatization, Self-Made None
Mikhelson, Leonid 59 Novatek Hydrocarbons Climbed Company Ladder BS Eng. Privatization, Self-Made None
Mordashov, Alexei 49 Severstal Consortium State Company, Entrepreneur BS Eng., UK MBA Privatization, Self-Made None
Potanin, Vladimir 54 Interros Consortium Entrepreneur BA For. Aff. SCP, Family Fraud
Prokhorov, Mikhail 50 NY Nets Consortium High Level Government MBA Government, Politics None
Timchenko, Gennady 62 Volga Consortium State Company, Entrepreneur BS Eng. Privatization, Self-Made None
Usmanov, Alisher 61 Arsenal FC Consortium High Level Government BA Intl. Law SCP, Family Early Fraud?
Vekselberg, Viktor 58 Renova Consortium State Company, Entrepreneur BS Eng. Privatization, Self-Made Fraud
Note:
SPC: Soviet Communist Party
Eng.: Engineering

First, compared to China, Russia’s Top Ten are, on average older, but within a fairly tight band, 49-64. Unlike the Chinese, Russian billionaires are much more likely to be widely invested in a number of different sectors, via consortiums (conglomerates). Two of the ten are in hydrocarbons and one is in steel. The rest are all over the place. Russian billionaires are just as entrepreneurial as the Chinese, with eight of them working their way to the top. Russia’s billionaires are a very educated lot. All of them have at least a college diploma, with seven of them in engineering.

For connections, four of the ten, compared to China’s 2/10, have the kind of Rolodex that may have helped their careers. The other six are self-made success stories. They were undoubtedly in the right place at the right time, back in the 1990s, with the massive selloff – many would say giveaway – of the Soviet Union’s state assets. Russia’s richest didn’t create these conditions, but they too advantage of them, apparently mostly legally.

In the Dirt department, three of the ten are known to have committed some kind of financial legerdemain. Mr. Usmanov was judicially exonerated twenty years later for Soviet era crimes, but a search on the internet will show that some people do not agree with that ruling. They say he was crook. We will probably never know, one way or the other.

To be honest, with the horrible reputation that Russia’s rich have been given behind the Great Western Firewall, I was pleasantly surprised at this list. I was expecting a long rap sheet on every one of these guys. I checked the aforementioned Wikipedia list for the next ten richest Russians and was again, very startled to see that most of them have no “controversies”. Only one of the #11-#20, Roman Abramovich has definite dirt on his hands. Oleg Deripaska has a bad smell, as it seems organized crime hovers around his dealings a lot, but still, no arrests. Dmitry Rybolovlev was imprisoned but later exonerated, when others were arrested on charges of a contract killing. Like Mr. Usmanov, at this point, who knows?

Does Russia have its fair share of bad guys? Probably no more than the West. Ronald Reagan’s administration was the most corrupt in American history. Yet all the hundreds who went before justice then, could easily commit the same crimes, starting in Bill Clinton’s presidency, up to today, with no consequences in sight. Now, high ranking members of US government and corporate criminals routinely commit perjury while testifying, walking away with a big pat on the back for a job well done. The insidiously corrupt revolving door between state and business just keeps on spinning. Do we need to discuss the totally rigged stock, bond, gold, silver and derivative markets? The wholly bogus “official” US government statistics on employment, the consumer price index (CPI) or the gross domestic product (GDP)? Or how about the LIBOR and swap rates, as well as the London gold fix? Then there is the plethora of offshore tax havens and the outright looting of billions from middle class pension funds. What can we say about all the stench of corruption in Brussels, which is a laughing stock across Europe? Or the Gilded Age, sunshine bribery racket in Washington, DC, where President Obama and Congress poll lower than a dried dog turd? Just web search these various key word combinations: “scandal”, “financial”, “corporate”, “political”, “American”, “US”, “European”, “2014”, “2015”, etc., for enough eye scorching filth to blind you.

Yes, Russia has some really bad actors. Ihor Kolomoyski, a Ukrainian billionaire, working with the West and Israel, is presumed to be helping organize some of the genocidal butchery in the eastern part of his shattered country, including the 2014 mass murder of 48 innocents in Odessa. Yet, is Barak Obama any better? He signs off on a weekly hit list, sending out drones across the world, killing and maiming thousands of innocents. Bill Clinton and John Major/Tony Blair gleefully exterminated hundreds of thousands of children in the 1990s, while enforcing genocidal sanctions on Iraq. And let’s not forget what Mr. Clinton did to Serbia. Later, Tony Blair and George Bush massacred millions in Iraq and Afghanistan. As we have since learned, these two resource rich countries were just a warmup for Western perpetual war and carnage across the planet. In 2011, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron gaily bombed Libya and its people back to the Stone Age. Are these murderers any different than Mr. Kolomoyski?

One very good explanation as to why Russia does have its fair share of criminal billionaires, is that they came to life during a period of social, economic and political anarchy. This happened in the 1990s, when President Boris Yeltsin opened up his country to predatory plunder, literally the rape of nation, by colonizing Western banks, corporations and governments. In that kind of environment, psychopaths thrive at the expense of everyone else. Many of the Wikipedia biographies of the more infamous, criminal Russian/Ukrainian billionaires point out that they were associates of the utterly corrupt Yeltsin, who was in fact their and the West’s spineless patsy for pillage. Let’s not forget, Russia’s criminal corporate class was and still is very much an important ally of Western criminal corporatocracy

 

 

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