Every year, dozens of Forbes reporters spend months investigating the fortunes of the world’s wealthiest citizens. Forbes delves into billionaires’ businesses, valuing everything from real estate to candy companies to offshore gambling operations. This year, with more than 30 reporters working from seven countries including India, China, Japan and Russia, Forbes tracked down 793 billionaires in 49 countries.
It can be exotic work: Our reporters have skied with Saudi Prince Alwaleed, visited Dennis Washington on his yacht in Vancouver Harbor and had tea with Kazakh billionaires in Courcheval in the French Alps. While in Israel reporting on diamond billionaire Lev Leviev, writer Lea Goldman once found herself surrounded by guards in a diamond trader’s office after she accidentally knocked a box of diamonds off a shelf.
But there is also a very serious purpose to these travels–namely, to learn as much as possible about various billionaires and their businesses. Some writers spend months–even years–trying to land interviews. In the U.S., Forbes figures that one out of every five billionaires will personally take a reporter’s calls, but that person is unlikely to be a member of the secretive hedge fund world. Among the billionaires who talked with us are Sheldon Adelson of the Las Vegas Sands, Jon Huntsman of Huntsman and James Sorenson of Abbott Labs.
For the first time this year, we polled reporters and partners from our foreign-language editions in Russia, Poland, Turkey, Israel and China to rank the countries that are the most and least open to Forbes’ financial and personal digging. We compiled a survey that asked reporters to rank the nations based on three categories:
– How easy is it to find information about public companies, including holdings and financial statements?
– How easy is it to find financial information about private companies?
– How easy is it to obtain billionaires’ personal details like age, educational background and marital status?
In the end, we double-weighted the first two categories.
The conclusions of our first-ever Behind the Togel Hongkong Billionaires Index were not entirely surprising. English-language nations dominated the most open ranks, while several Middle East countries were among the most secretive.
One interesting finding: The Iron Curtain has definitely been pulled down. In the 1990s, a Russian news agency had to buy a single share in each major company to get access to these companies’ financial statements. But now, Russia and other post-communist countries are much more open, ranking mostly in the middle of Forbes’ survey. “The central European states are more like the U.S. than Western Europe,” says reporter Tatiana Serafin. “As newly minted billionaires, they are happy and proud to talk.”