'forbes': arafat worth $300m. freedom fighter?

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    'Forbes': Arafat worth $300m.
    Feb. 28, 2003

    NEW YORK Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat made Forbes magazine's list of the world richest people in a new category reserved for kings, queens, and despots.

    With a personal fortune of at least $300 million stashed away in Swiss banks, Arafat is featured in Forbes special annual issue on the world's top 500 billionaires.

    Arafat placed No. 6 on a list of world leaders in the "kings, queens, and despots" category. Saudi Arabia's King Fahd topped the list at $20 billion, and Saddam Hussein was fourth with $2b.

    Forbes wrote that Arafat has "feasted on all sorts of funds flowing into the PA, including aid money, Israeli tax transfers, and revenue from a casino and Coca-Cola bottler. Much of the money appears to have gone to pay off others. New Finance Minister Salaam Fayad is cleaning up the PA's finances, cutting off much of Arafat's cash flow."

    The Forbes figure is modest in comparison to other estimates of Arafat's riches. In a briefing delivered last August to the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, OC Intelligence Maj.-Gen. Aharon (Farkash) Ze'evi reported his net worth at $1.3b. In 1990, the CIA reportedly estimated that Arafat and the PLO had between $8b. and $14b. worth of assets at their disposal. In 1995, the US General Accounting Office compiled a report on Arafat's finances, but it was kept secret due to "national security interests."

    Kept off the official billionaires list because, according to the accompanying text, "they don't exactly represent success stories of entrepreneurial capitalism," Arafat, Saddam Hussein, and Fidel Castro, worth $110m., made it onto the list of rogue rich instead. The section features a two-page spread titled "Auditing Arafat," which surmises he "may be brought to heel by, of all things, honest financial accounting."

    While dictators were amassing fortunes last year, Forbes found that regular billionaires were losing money. Over the past year, the number of billionaires dropped to 476 from 497, and the net worth of the new not-as-rich dropped $140b. to $1.4 trillion, equal to the GDP of England.

    Microsoft chief Bill Gates took first place as the world's wealthiest man, with a declining worth of $40.7b., down from $52.8b. last year and $90b. in 1999. Warren Buffet, who lost $5b. over the past year, kept his No. 2 slot, with $30.5b.

    "It was a sad year," said Forbes senior editor Peter Newcomb. The US lost 30 billionaires and $98b. in wealth; still, 222 billionaires, 47% of the world's, call the US home.

    "The US is still a great place to make money, and I expect a turnaround," Newcomb said.
    In the Middle East, spikes in oil prices resulted in increased wealth for Saudi royalty and Gulf emirates. Israel, however, which had three billionaires in the 2002 list, saw a dip in its billionaire status with the loss of Check Point's Gil Schwed, who was worth $1b. last year.

    In addition, ranks were downgraded for Shari Arison Dorsman, who lost $900m. last year and dropped from No. 112 to 158, and Sammy and Yuli Ofer, shipping magnates worth $1.6b. and ranked at 256, down from $2b. and 208 a year ago.
    "Clearly, the conflict has a debilitating impact on the creation of wealth," said executive editor Paul Maidment.

    American Jews on the 2003 list include New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose $4.8b. net worth rose by 10% despite earning just $1 per year in public service; Mortimer Zuckerman, chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, whose $1.1b. fortune remained unchanged, and movie producer Steven Spielberg and cosmetics heir and Jewish National Fund president Ronald Lauder, who tied for 177th with $2.2b. each
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