Billionaire Convicts And Inmates
Thailand's former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was charged with terrorism this week. The Thai government claims he is responsible for spurring the anti-government Red Shirts during the violent chaos that inflamed the streets of Bangkok over the past two months leaving 88 dead.world Updated: Jun 03, 2010 20:27 IST
Wong Kwong Yu, 41, was once one of China's most celebrated and wealthiest entrepreneurs. He was the nation's richest person in 2006. Now he is behind bars, sentenced last week to 14 years in jail after having been convicted of insider trading and bribery.
Another former Asian billionaire could be in even hotter water. Thailand's former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, was charged with terrorism this week. The Thai government claims he is responsible for spurring the anti-government Red Shirts during the violent chaos that inflamed the streets of Bangkok over the past two months leaving 88 dead. Thaksin denies involvement.
This isn't the first time that Thaksin, who made his fortune in telecom, has been in legal trouble. In 2006 he was ousted from the Thai government and in 2008 he was convicted in absentia to two years in prison on corruption charges. He never made it behind bars as he was already out of the country when convicted, reportedly having fled to Dubai. But his family lost the bulk of its money, which was seized by the government. This time, if he were caught, the consequences would be graver. The former billionaire, who has told reporters from his undisclosed location that he did not incite violence, could face the death penalty.
These two tycoons are just the latest examples of a long line of ultra rich outlaws, outcasts and convicts throughout history. There are today at least three former billionaires behind bars in addition to Wong. They include Russia's Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev, who have already spent seven years in jail and are now on trial for additional charges; and R. Allen Stanford, the Texan financier accused (though not yet convicted) of running an $8 billion Ponzi scheme. Italy's Calisto Tanzi, Parmalat's co-founder was sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2008 for masterminding Europe's largest bankruptcy; he appealed, but the decision was recently upheld.
Rather than go to prison, other billionaires and former billionaires like Thaksin have opted to adapt to a life in exile or a life on the run from the law.
Joaquim Guzman Loera ("El Chapo"), the world's most wanted billionaire, has a $5 million reward being offered for any information leading to his capture. El Chapo has been on the run for nine years after reportedly escaping from jail in a laundry cart in 2001. Even while on the run, however, he's been making a fortune selling drugs through the Sinaloa cartel, one of the biggest suppliers of cocaine to the United States.
The Uzan family in Turkey, worth $1.6 billion in 2001, has its share of members in exile or in hiding. Just this April, Cem Uzan was convicted of various charges, including fraud and bribery. He's reportedly in exile in France avoiding his sentence of 23 years in prison. His father, Kemal, and brother, Hakan, are also suspects in the case. The outlaw family has been out of billionaire ranks since 2004 when the Turkish government seized more than 200 of its companies in an attempt to collect an alleged $5.9 billion in debt.
At least three other former or current billionaires have spent time in jail including domestic queen Martha Stewart, who spent five months in prison for obstruction of justice, and mall tycoon A. Alfred Taubman, who was behind bars for nine months for allegedly rigging art auctions. Both have returned to their respective empire helms; Taubman, worth $1.5 billion as of our last billionaire list in March, even wrote a book detailing his time behind bars. Stewart is still a multimillionaire but no longer anywhere close to being a billionaire.
Indeed, sometimes convictions are merely temporary setbacks. Three Korean billionaires charged with fraud have all been pardoned and are now running their firms. Chey Tae-Won, chairman of SK Group, South Korea's third-largest conglomerate by assets, spent seven months in prison after being convicted of accounting fraud in 2003. He subsequently rejoined his company as chairman and was pardoned in 2008. Samsung Electronic's chairman Lee Kun-Hee was convicted on charges of tax evasion and ordered to pay $130 million in overdue taxes, but he was pardoned in December. He has since returned to his role as chairman of Samsung Electronics, one of the biggest electronics companies in the world.
Currently awaiting an October trial, Galleon Group hedge fund titan Raj Rajaratnam, is hoping to keep his life outside the confines of a cell. Rajaratnam, who is out on bail, is accused of being at the center of a massive insider-trading ring. Although he denies wrongdoing, one of the other accused ring members, Mark Kurland, was sentenced this month to more than two years in jail. But Rajaratnam has reason to be optimistic. This week his lawyer said the Justice Department and SEC are looking into allegations that prosecutors leaked nonpublic information to the media.
Charges of prosecutorial misconduct worked to another accused billionaire's advantage this year. Henry T. Nicholas, Broadcom's co-founder, faced two trials this year and a potential 360 years in prison. He'd been charged with 21 counts of options backdating and 4 counts of drug conspiracy. In January, however, a California federal district judge unexpectedly threw out the charges on the basis of prosecutorial misconduct. Nicholas didn't even have to show up for his day in court.