Russian Billionaires vs. American Billionaires: Who's Best at Excess?

BillionairesIn the late 1980's, the Great Recession was far in the future, Gordon Gekko was in theaters, and Wall Street's movers and shakers were some of America's greatest heroes. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Soviet Union was a grim, cold wasteland filled with long lines and cabbage-based cuisine. Everybody wanted to be in finance and nobody wanted to be in Moscow.

What a difference a few decades make.

Today, things seem to be flipping. Spearheaded by John Thain, Dick Fuld and Angelo Mozilo, Wall Street's money men have become America's go-to villains, while Russia's crop of ambitious young billionaires have captured the public's imagination -- and some of the world's most coveted trophies.

But how do Russia's billionaires stack up against America's home grown oligarchs? To find out, we took a peek at some of the richest men in the world -- on both sides of the Arctic Ocean.

Russian Billionaires Versus American Billionaires: The Showdown!
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Russian Billionaires vs. American Billionaires: Who's Best at Excess?

It's been a turbulent couple of years for former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld. In 2008, he lost his job, his company, and his spot on the billionaire list as the value of his Lehman stock evaporated. Not long afterward, he sold off several of his most valued possessions, including his $25 million Park Avenue apartment. But don't feel too bad for the ousted CEO: He made a $4 million profit on the deal.

By contrast, this year, 22-year-old Russian exchange student Ekaterina Rybolovleva paid $88 million for an apartment bordering Central Park. How did a college coed manage to swing the most expensive individual transaction in New York history? Well, it helps if your father is Dmitry Rybolovlev, a Moscow businessman and the 93rd wealthiest person in the world.

When it comes to pricey American real estate, the big winner is likely investor Ira Rennert, whose 63-acre Long Island estate is valued at $198 million. Recently, however, American billionaires have mostly been in the headlines for selling their homes, not buying them. In fact, the biggest billionaire housing purchase in 2011, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison's $42.9 million purchase of a California estate, only ranked seventh among the top 10 American real estate deals that year.

The top sale of 2011 went to Russian venture capitalist Yuri Milner, who payed an estimated $100 million for a mansion -- and 18-acre estate -- in Los Altos, Calif. In addition to its ballroom, home theater and gorgeous views, the house works for Milner for the most fundamental of real estate reasons: location, location, location. It's in the Silicon Valley, where Milner, an early investor in Facebook, makes his living by investing in tech startups...

While he recently bought one of the most expensive houses in the country, Oracle chief Larry Ellison also got rid of one of the most expensive yachts. The Rising Sun, his 453-foot boat, originally cost him an estimated $200 million. Today, it is the world's eighth-largest yacht, and is owned by music mogul David Geffen.

The biggest yacht in the world now is the Eclipse, a 533-foot boat owned by Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich and valued at an estimated $1.2 billion. Abramovich, who makes his living as an investor, has a total net worth of roughly $12.1 billion.

While yachts are the classic rich man's toy, sports teams run a close second. Among American billionaires, the undisputed top team owner is Paul Allen, who dominates professional sports in the Pacific Northwest. He owns the NBA's Portland Trailblazers, the NFL's Seattle Seahawks, and the Seattle Sounders professional soccer team. A co-founder of Microsoft, he is also worth an estimated $14.2 billion.

When it comes to sports, the top Russian oligarchs, including Abramovich and metals investor Rinat Akhmetov, have generally invested in teams outside of the United States. The lone major exception is probably Mikhail Prokharov, an investor worth an estimated $13.2 billion, who owns the New Jersey Nets.

When it comes to investing in one's country, the most famous oligarch is probably Vladimir Putin. Experts disagree about his total net worth: Some argue that it hovers around $40 billion, which would put him just north of Larry Ellison. Others claim it's as high as $70 billion, a sum that would put him right below Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world. For his part, Putin has dismissed these estimates. He claims to have only $179,612 in the bank.

In America, Mitt Romney has become famous as one of the wealthiest men in politics, but his personal holdings pale beside those of Charles and David Koch, who share a fortune that is estimated at $45 billion. While the pair have rarely directly involved themselves in politics -- a notable exception was David's 1980 vice presidential run on the Libertarian ticket -- they have gained a reputation as major right-wing political donors. In addition to helping to fund the libertarian Cato Institute, they have spent millions on individual conservative candidates and lobbying.

Henry Kissinger once famously said that "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." Donald Trump has certainly found this to be true. The real estate mogul, whose personal wealth is estimated at over $7 billion, has married three famously beautiful women, two of whom previously made their living as models.

Moscow billionaire Vladislav Doronin seems to be following in the Donald's footsteps. The oligarch, who also made his money in real estate, has been dating supermodel Naomi Campbell since 2008. In fact, the famous British model has even followed love all the way to Russia -- the couple lives together in Moscow.


Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at@bruce1971.
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