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. Khodorkovsky and his supporters have strenuously denied allegations against him, claiming he is a political prisoner whose outspoken criticism of prime minister Vladimir Putin cost him his freedom. Also locked up is 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.
Image: Mikhail Khodorkovsky
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