BYD Chairman China's Richest Man

BEIJING (AP) -- A Warren Buffet-backed auto entrepreneur worth $5.1 billion has surpassed a disgraced appliance tycoon to become the richest person in China, according to an annual report Tuesday.

Huang Guangyu, the richest man in China last year, dropped to 17 on the list this year, worth $3.4 billion, after he resigned as chairman of the country's biggest appliance chain while under investigation for alleged economic crimes, according to the Hurun Report.

Auto mogul Wang Chuanfu, as chairman of BYD Co., made big strides in the past year to become the first automaker to launch mass production of a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle. The company also secured backing from U.S. billionaire investor Warren Buffett, whose MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. has a 9.9 percent stake in the Hong Kong-traded company.

With help from a growing domestic car industry, Wang's 27.8. percent stake in BYD Co. elevated him 102 places in Hurun Rich List's 2009 rankings.

Seven of the top 10 names in 2008 fell down the list this year a result of the financial crisis. Besides Huang, legal problems also hit other high-ranking individuals, including hypermarket Wu Mart founder Zhang Wenzhong, who was sentenced to 18 years for fraud, bribery and embezzlement.

Huang was forced to resign as chairman of Gome Electrical Appliances Holdings, the country's biggest appliance chain, in January while under investigation for alleged economic crimes. He is currently awaiting sentencing.

The Hurun Report, established in 1999, compiles a list of 1,000 Chinese entrepreneurs whose wealth totals at least 1 billion yuan ($147 million).

One strong comeback this year was made by Zhang Yin, founder of the paper-recycling giant Nine Dragons Paper. Zhang slipped to No. 15 last year amid the global economic crisis -- but bounced back to No. 2 this year as China's exports begin to recover, Rupert Hoogewerf, founder of the Hurun Rich List, told a news conference.

Despite the economic downturn, China's total number of U.S. dollar billionaires increased from 101 in 2008 to 130 in 2009, according to Hoogewerf. He said there may be another 100 such billionaires who have chosen to remain off the radar

"This list definitely puts the rich in a spotlight as China is now only second to the U.S. in terms of known U.S. dollar billionaires," Hoogewerf said.

The report said seven new members in the top 10 made their fortunes in mining and real estate.

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