A 37-year-old appliance merchant topped a list of China's richest businesspeople released yesterday by the business magazine Forbes, leading a group of young entrepreneurs who have profited from the country's economic boom.
Wong Kwong-yu (黃光裕), founder of Gome Appliances (國美電器), saw his wealth expand to US$2.3 billion, driven by a jump in homebuying by China's newly prosperous middle class, according to Forbes.
The release of the 400-person Forbes China Rich List comes at a time when some of China's richest businesspeople are ensnared in scandals. A real estate tycoon ranked 16th on last year's list was arrested last month in a corruption investigation.
Wong is also caught up in a high profile bank fraud case. Chinese media have reported that he is under investigation over US$165 million in loans extended by the Bank of China between 1997 and 2004.
Trading of Gome shares in Hong Kong was suspended on Tuesday following the report but later resumed, and Gome said it had received no notice of such a probe.
The probe reportedly centers on Wong's older brother, a real estate developer. Wong's name also is spelled Huang Guangyu.
The combined wealth of China's 400 richest people jumped 51 percent to US$110 billion since Forbes' list last year.
The number of US dollar billionaires also increased to 15 from 10 last year and just three the year before.
Nearly one-quarter of those on this year's list are under age 40, reflecting the fact that most of China's fortunes have been made in the past decade as retail, Internet and real estate companies sprang up to serve a booming consumer market.
"China's richest are a lot younger than America's richest," said Russell Flannery, Forbes' Shanghai bureau chief and compiler of the list, at a news conference.
* Zhang Rongkun, the 16th richest on last year's list, last month became the first person formally arrested in a billion-dollar pension fund scandal shaking Shanghai.
* Xu Jiayin, No. 52 on this year's list, allegedly owes US$3.6 million in taxes.
* Wang Dejun, No. 167 on the 2004 list, was tried on bribery charges in September.
* Zhou Zhengyi, the 11th richest in the 2002 rankings, was tried for manipulating stock prices in 2004. He received a three-year jail sentence.
* Yang Bin, No. 2 on the 2001 list, was tried on charges of bribery, fraud and illegal encroachment of farming land in 2003. He received an 18 year prison term.
"A big reason for the jump in wealth is the success they have had in listing their companies overseas," Flannery said.
"For Chinese private sector companies that have long been overshadowed by state-owned enterprises, access to capital markets is going to improve their competitiveness at home and abroad. That's very good news for them," he said.
No. 2 on the list was property developer Xu Rongnao (許榮茂), with a fortune of US$2.1 billion, followed by Larry Yung (
The richest woman was No. 5 Zhang Yin (張茵), who built a business recycling paper into Nine Dragons Paper Co (玖龍紙業), China's biggest maker of paperboard for packaging, at US$1.5 billion.
Zhang was No. 1 on a list of China's richest released Oct. 11 by journalist Rupert Hoogewerf, who used to compile Forbes' rankings.
Flannery said Forbes calculated Zhang's wealth separately from the stakes that her husband and brother own in Nine Dragons. If their holdings were added together, the family would be No. 1 on the Forbes list.
The magazine noted that No. 16 on last year's list, Shanghai developer Zhang Rongkun (張榮坤), was dropped this year after he was arrested in a corruption investigation and his company's share price plunged.
The Shanghai Communist Party secretary has been dismissed in the scandal over allegations that government pension funds were improperly invested in real estate. Other officials are being questioned.