Abramovich's friend replaces him as the richest man in Russia

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The Independent Online

Roman Abramovich has been dethroned as Russia's wealthiest individual for the first time since rich lists began. He has been replaced by one of his closest friends, a controversial oligarch who controls much of the world's aluminium production and owns a £25m house in Belgravia, London.

Though not a household name in the UK, where he likes to improve his English, Oleg Deripaska, 39, the new oligarch of oligarchs, is well known in his native Russia for his impeccable Kremlin connections and his control of much of the country's industrial crown jewels.

According to a rich list published by Finans magazine, Mr Deripaska is worth $21.2bn (£10.9bn), making him Russia's richest man. Mr Abramovich has the next spot, with $21bn.

Second place is something of a novelty for the Chelsea FC owner. It is the first time since 2004, when rich lists appeared in Russia, that he has not been crowned the country's wealthiest citizen.

While Mr Abramovich has spent more and more of his time in London, Mr Deripaska has been quietly consolidating in Russia. Sometimes called "the Aluminium King" because of his vice-like grip on the industry, Mr Deripaska enjoys a reputation as the hard man of the infamously ruthless metals business, a reputation he claims is exaggerated.

Feared and respected for his ambition and drive, he survived Russia's bloody "aluminium wars" in the 1990s when the country's mineral wealth was divided in a spray of bullets and violent stand-offs to emerge with more assets than anyone else. In April, his aluminium company, Rusal, is due to merge with two firms in a deal making it the world's biggest producer of the lightweight metal.

Mr Deripaska's methods have not always been appreciated by his competitors and he has been sued in the US and the UK. One unsuccessful American lawsuit claimed he had made his fortune from "physical force, bribery and extortion", allegations that Mr Deripaska denied. In Russia he is seen as more loyal than Mr Abramovich and is not perceived to have turned his back on the motherland. Oleg Anisimov, editor-in-chief of Finans, suggested Mr Deripaska was a more worthy No 1. "Roman Abramovich is engaged more in speculation whereas Oleg Deripaska is more engaged with development," he wrote. "His consumer habits don't attract as much attention as Abramovich's. And at least they don't damage the country's image. In the final analysis Oleg Deripaska lives in Russia whereas Roman Abramovich prefers London."

Mr Deripaska enjoys excellent relations with President Vladimir Putin and Russia's political elite in general. Like Mr Abramovich, he is a fan of the beautiful game. He co-owns a football team in southern Russia and has been linked to a bid to buy Arsenal FC.