The Real Richest Man in the World and 14 Other Secret Billionaires

  • The Forbes Billionaire List omits a number of the world’s richest people.
  • Vladimir Putin, for example, might be the richest man in the world — but it’s difficult to verify.
  • These 15 individuals and families control a vast swath of “dark wealth.”

Can you name the richest person in the world? Odds are you’ll name Bill Gates — or perhaps Jeff Bezos or Warren Buffett. You wouldn’t be wrong, according to traditional sources. The Forbes Billionaire List is the go-to for keeping track of the world’s richest people. But what if that list weren’t entirely accurate — meaning there are people out there with huge fortunes who don’t appear on it for one reason or another? Vladimir Putin is one example. And there are many others.

There are a few reasons for that. Some rich people simply want to fly under the radar. Money attracts attention, after all, and they’d rather live their lives in peace. Others have secret fortunes or huge amounts of money that have been earned in less-than-savory ways. Drug lords, for example, won’t show up on the Forbes list or most others. Neither will gangsters or dictators.

The fact is there’s a lot of dark wealth out there. Putin, again, is a prime example. Some estimates put his net worth at somewhere around $70 billion. Recently, though, we learned it might be much, much higher. Still, we don’t see him discussed in the same sentence as Gates or Buffett.

Why? His wealth is difficult, if not impossible, to verify. It’s tied up all over the world in different banks and investments. The same goes for many other people. Here are 15 billionaires you won’t find on most financial lists.

15. Wen Jiabao: $2.7 billion

Wen Jiabao

He was the leader of the Chinese government for a decade. | Feng Li/Getty Images

  • Wen Jiabao was the head of the Chinese government from 2003 until 2013.

You will find Wen Jiabao’s name in Forbes. But the real interesting thing about the former Chinese prime minister is his estimated $2.7 billion is hidden all over the place through a vast familial network. A New York Times investigation published in 2012 does a good job of explaining the complicated web of finances that make up the Jiabao fortune, ultimately landing at the $2.7 billion figure. From that investigation, it appears the family — including Jiabao’s mother and children — amassed most of their money while he was running the country.

Next: From an Asian oligarch to a European monarch

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