Branson joins the seriously rich list: Leonard Doyle in New York checks the latest 'Forbes' magazine count of the world's dollar billionaires

THE United States is still home to more billionaire fortunes than any other nation, but the ranks of the ultra-rich are increasingly being filled by citizens of other countries around the world, according to the annual billionaires' list compiled by Forbes magazine.

A newcomer to the 'World Billionaires' ranking is Britain's Richard Branson, who is worth around dollars 1.2bn ( pounds 630m) after selling his Virgin record label to Thorn EMI for dollars 961m. He shares pride of place with the Colombian drug billionaire Pablo Escobar, head of the Medellin cartel who is in a prison he designed himself, still running the cocaine cartel and managing his dollars 2bn fortune.

In a new departure, the magazine excludes royal families and heads of state from its list, 'because their wealth derives more from political heritage than from economic effort'. Forbes also excludes dictators 'because their wealth depends on police state repression, not economic prowess'. However, the magazine does not explain the apparent contradiction of listing drug barons.

A worrying trend for some Americans is that Germany now has more billionaires in proportion to its population, as does Hong Kong, than the US. But the biggest shock to US pride is that the number of Latin American billionaires has tripled to 21, with 13 new names being added to the prestigious annual list this year.

In a soothing editorial, the magazine reassures its readers that 'there is nothing sinister about this . . . Economic growth requires large-scale undertakings . . . a capitalist society shows wide disparities but almost everyone is better off than they were when the only way to make a living was by ploughing the furrow.'

The deeper meaning Forbes magazine draws from the surge in the numbers of Third World billionaires is that: 'We needn't love our billionaires, but we should be grateful we live in a society that keeps creating new ones.'

Seven of the new Latin American arrivals are from Mexico; the wealthiest is Emilio 'The Tiger' Azcarraga Milmo, with a fortune said to be worth dollars 8bn. He controls a media empire with radio, television, publishing and satellite properties.

The two richest people on the Forbes list are Japanese men with individual fortunes in excess of dollars 10bn. Taikichiro Mori is an 88- year old property tycoon worth dollars 13bn, while Yoshiaki Tsutsumi made his fortune in land, railroads and golf resorts. The richest American is William Gates, the head of Microsoft. The 36-year- old Harvard dropout is worth some dollars 6.4bn.

The largest family fortune - valued at dollars 23.8bn - is held by relatives of the late Sam Moore Walton, founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Family heirs to the Du Pont and Mars confectionery business empires are listed as being worth dollars 8.6bn and dollars 8bn respectively.

The United States leads the list with 101 individuals or families out of 291 worth dollars 1bn or more. Germany is second with 44 billionaire fortunes and Japan third with 34.

----------------------------------------------------------------- The World's Rich ----------------------------------------------------------------- Name Worth (dollars bn) 1. Walton family (US) 23.8 2. Taikichiro Mori (Jap) 13.0 3. Y. Tsutsumi (Jap) 10.0 4. Du Pont family (US) 8.6 5. Mars family (US) 8.0 6. Rausing family (Swe) 7.0 7. Erivan Haub (Ger) 6.9 8. William Gates (US) 6.4 9. Haniel family (Ger) 6.4 10. Roy Thomson (Can) 6.2 11. Sainsburys (UK) 6.2 20. Rockefellers (US) 5.0 23. Hearsts (US) 4.4 28. Rajhis (S. Arabia) 4.0 53. Agnellis (Italy) 3.0 -----------------------------------------------------------------

(Photograph omitted)

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