U.S. investigators tell The Wall Street Journal that equipment aboard the missing plane was transmitting for four hours after it is thought to have vanished. Malaysian officials say that's not true.
Russian Oligarchs are everywhere. Whether they’re losing billions in Sochi investments, escaping sanctions over the Ukranian occupation, or fearing a new front in the crisis, they seem to pop up like boogeymen whenever the media talks about Russia. But who exactly are these shadowy figures? To put it simply, they’re extremely wealthy men that wield an incredible amount of influence in Russian politics. Think the Koch brothers or George Soros multiplied by a thousand. To understand anything about Russia, you have to understand the oligarchs. Here are six of the most prominent:
The richest man in Russia and the 40th richest person in the world, Alisher Usmanov started in the metal industry, but now has interests in telecommunications, media, and sports. Last year, he invested about $100 million in Apple. The former fencing champion spent six years in an Uzbeki jail on fraud and extortion charges, but was eventually cleared by a Soviet court. Usmanov is close with Putin, firing managers of a magazine he owned after it printed ‘anti-Putin’ photos. Last July, he was given the Order for Service to the Fatherland, Russia’s highest civil award.
Oleg Deripaska spent $1 billion of his own money to fund the Sochi Olympics, but he’s best known to western audiences for the $15,000 he spent to construct a dog shelter and save some of Sochi’s strays. That good publicity is something of a rarity for aluminum magnate Deripaska, as he was embroiled in ‘yachtgate’, when two prominent British politicians boarded a yacht he owned. He also lost a fair amount of his fortune when the great recession hit and the aluminum market collapsed. Nevertheless, he remains a favorite of Putin, and he’s still worth $6.5 billion, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Mikhail Prokorov owns the Brooklyn Nets, rapped on Russian TV, and has backflipped on a jet ski. If that weren’t exciting enough, he’s even criticized Vladimir Putin. In public. Although Prokorov got rich through metals, his current concern is politics. He ran as an independent candidate against Putin in the 2012 election, and he’s now building a political party called ‘The Civic Platform’. Although he only got 8% of the vote two years ago, he intends to expand ‘The Civic Platform’ until it’s ready to face Putin’s ‘United Russia’ party.
An oil tycoon, former governor, and owner of the world’s largest yacht, Roman Abramovich is one of Putin’s closest allies. He also happens to be the 137th richest person in the world. Not just a businessman, Abramovich was governor, then Duma chairman of Chutokta, an icy province in Russia’s far east. At times controversial, Abramovich had a major falling out with former bussiness-partner and Putin king-maker Boris Berezovsky, who committed suicide after his $5 billion lawsuit against Abramovich was unsuccessful.
Leonid Mikhelson sold his Soviet car in order to take part in the first rounds of Russia’s privatization. He’s now CEO of Novatek, one of Russia’s largest natural gas producers, and his fortune is estimated at $15.6 billion. Mikhelson is also one of the most important players in the art world, running the V-A-C foundation, which promotes Russian art. And who does he want to eventually run the foundation after him? Why, his daughter Victoria, who, perhaps not coincidentally, the foundation is named after. Not bad for an art history student at NYU.
Perhaps the most well known oligarch isn’t really an oligarch at all, as he’s only worth $170 million. Before he spent more than a decade in prison on charges of tax evasion and fraud, Mikhail Khodorkovsky was the richest man in Russia. Like so many other oligarchs, he made his fortune when the Soviet Union privatized its resources, tying himself in to the country’s controversial move to a non-communist economy. But after supporting Putin’s liberal opposition, Khodorkovsky found himself in jail, on what his lawyers contended were trumped charges. Ten years later, in what was widely seen as a move to improve Russia’s image before the Sochi games, Putin pardoned him. Khodorkovsky declared that he would no longer be involved in Russian politics, but on March 10th, he addressed a crowd of protesters in Kiev, railing against the Russian government. As for what’s next for one of the most famous (former) Russian oligarchs, only time will tell.
China’s industrial output, fixed asset investment and retail sales all fell the first two months of 2014, a troubling sign that indicates the world’s second largest economy isn’t recovering. Every single economic index released from Beijing today fell short of economists’ expectations, dipping to lows not seen since 2009, during the height of the global recession. News that won’t help investor confidence was a question that Premier Li Keqiang received from a reporter today at the National People’s Congress in Beijing. Li was asked what his biggest challenge was as Premier last year. His answer? –The economy: “We’ve had very limited space for maneuvering and carrying out our new fiscal and monetary policies, and we were faced with touch choices in exercising microeconomic control,” Li told reporters. “What should we do? When confronted with such challenges, one needs to show guts.”
Showing guts is how some economists explain today’s lackluster economic numbers, theorizing that a dip in these indices means China’s government has taken efforts to stabilize the country’s economy. A competing theory says China’s not doing enough to rebalance its economy and that these numbers are a sign of bad things to come. This camp points to the fact that China’s central bank has loosened credit for businesses lately – something that, if left unchecked, has proven to be a bad idea for China’s economy in recent years. China’s currency, the Renminbi, is also being deliberately weakened by the central bank to make Chinese exports cheaper.
New foreclosure filings are down to pre-recession levels. But the blight of abandoned homes in foreclosure — so-called 'zombie properties' — hasn’t improved. According to data released by RealtyTrac, 21 percent of homes in foreclosure nationwide in February had been vacated by the owner—unchanged from one year earlier. The rate was 30 percent or higher in distressed real estate markets in states such as Michigan, Nevada and Alabama. The average amount of time nationwide that an owner-abandonned home sits in the foreclosure process—without being repaired, put on the market and resold—was 1,031 days, or nearly three years.
"They're sitting vacant," said RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist of these so-called zombie properties. "The bank is not claiming responsibility, the homeowner is not claiming responsibility, the property is falling into disrepair. The property taxes aren't being paid. So it's causing an eyesore in the community, and also potentially dragging down home values of surrounding properties."
University of Arizona law professor Brent White said there's an even worse problem for the housing market right now: "Hundreds of thousands of bank-owned properties that are similarly 'zombie properties,' for which banks have foreclosed and then just let the properties sit there."
States with the most and least number of 'zombie properties' (i.e., owner-vacated properties in foreclosure):
3. New York
4. New Jersey
9. South Carolina
46. South Dakota
47. West Virginia
50. District of Columbia
Some Metro Areas with a High Percentage of Properties in Foreclosure that are 'Zombies' (i.e., owner-vacated):
Salem, Oregon -- 48%
Flint, Michigan -- 39%
Ocala, Florida -- 39%
Peoria, Illinois -- 39%
Des Moines, Iowa -- 35%
St. Louis, Missouri -- 33%
Las Vegas, Nevada -- 33%
Indianapolis, Indiana -- 33%
Port St. Lucie, Florida -- 32%
Binghamton, New York -- 32%
(Source: RealtyTrac, February 2014 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report)