On Friday morning, Italian billionaire Silvio Berlusconi was sentenced to four years in prison. He has two chances to appeal and seems likely to figure his way out of this predicament, but if all that fails he may end up behind bars, despite all of his wealth –he’s currently worth slightly more than $5 billion — and (dwindling) power.
Unfortunately, he’ll have plenty of company from other billionaires and former billionaires who have spent time behind bars, several of whom are currently serving out sentences. While some of the stays have been quit short – Detroit billionaire Manny Maroun spent one night in jail in January for obstructing the law – others have not been so lucky. Chinese entrepreneur Wong Kwong Yu was sent to jail for 14 years, though his sentence was apparently reduced recently. Former Russian billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky has been in prison for nearly a decade, despite repeated and ongoing efforts to get his conviction for money laundering overturned. Texan Allan Stanford –another former billionaire — was convicted of a $7 billion Ponzi scheme and sentenced in June to 11o years in jail.
There are still others who face a similar fate. Hong Kong real estate tycoons, Thomas and Raymond Kwok, were charged in July with conspiracy to offer “advantages to a public servant and misconduct in public office,” according to a Reuters report at the time. For now, they are out on bail. Another case pending is that of SC Johnson billionaire heir Curt Johnson, who was charged with the repeated sexual assault of a child (later revealed to be his stepdaughter) in March of 2011.
Below is a list of current and former billionaires who have spent time in prison.
Wong Kwong Yu
A high school dropout who made a fortune in electronics retailing, he was once one of China’s most celebrated and wealthiest entrepreneurs. He was the nation’s richest person in 2006. Two years later, he was detained and sentenced in 2010 to 14 years in prison sentence for bribery, insider trading and stock manipulation. Now in jail, he remains a billionaire, though his fortune has taken a hit along with the shares of Gome Electrical Appliances, the retailer he founded, which lost $78 million on sales of $3.6 billion in the first six months of 2012.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Platon Lebedev
Once the richest person in Russia, worth $15 billion and ranked no. 15 in the world, Khodorkovsky, the former head of Yukos Oil, and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, have been behind bars since 2003. That’s when the two men were arrested and later convicted on fraud charges and tax evasion. They were supposed to be released in 2011 but instead were convicted a second time in December 2010 of embezzling more than 200 million tons of oil and laundering the proceeds, adding six more years onto their time in the slammer. Many believe that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his supporters orchestrated the rulings to keep Khodorkovsky, a potential political foe, locked up.
Former billionaire financier was convicted of running an estimated $7 billion Ponzi scheme and sentenced in June to 110 years in prison. He’s been in jail since 2009.
Former hedge fund billionaire, Rajaratnam, who once ran the Galleon Group, was found guilty of 14 counts of fraud in what’s been called the biggest insider trading ring of all time. He was later sentenced to 11 years in prison and fined $10 million, apparently the longest prison sentence for insider trading. He has been at a federal prison in Massachusetts since last December.
Mall tycoon and former Sotheby’s chairman spent nine months in jail in 2004 for allegedly rigging art auctions. He insisted he was innocent and published a book in 2007 outlining his road to becoming a billionaire and describing his time in prison. He has since moved on. Last year, the mall mogul pledged $56 million to the University of Michigan and is now the largest donor in the school’s history, having given $142 million. In all he has given more than $250 million to charity, including $26 million to Detroit-area schools.
Milken made his billions in leveraged buyouts in the 1980′s, only to be sent to prison in 1989. He pleaded guilty to securities fraud after the government agreed to drop criminal charges against his younger brother, Lowell, and then served 22 months. The one-time Drexel Burnham Lambert executive has charted an entirely different course ever since and is a well known philanthropist.
Chairman of SK Group, South Korea’s third-largest conglomerate by assets; he spent seven months in jail in 2003 for accounting fraud, returned to helm after release, then was pardoned in 2008. Two other Korean billionaires have had run-ins with the law. Hyundai Motor’s Chung Mong-Koo was convicted of fraud but granted a presidential pardon in 2008. Lee Kun-Hee, chairman of Samsung Electronics, was convicted of tax evasion in 2009 but also granted a pardon in December 2011.