France's richest 500 become 25 per cent richer in one year

Despite economic crisis and the Socialist government’s austerity programme, France’s 500 richest people have seen their wealth rise by a quarter in a year, a business magazine reports. A rival journal says some of the fortunes have been overestimated but still features 47 billionaires in its top 50.


The top 500 fortunes in France are worth 330 billion euros, according to Challenges magazine, the highest figure since its annual survey began in 1996.


The figure is 16 per cent of GDP and 10 per cent of France’s collective wealth.


“A 10th of wealth is in the hands of a 100,000th of the population,” Challenges comments.


The magazine calculates that there are 55 euro-billionaires in France, 10 more than last year, and 445 millionaires.


The wealth of the top 10 has risen by 30 billion euros in 12 months to 135 billion euros, it says.


Challenges puts Bernard Arnault, the boss of luxury goods maker LVMH, top of the list with 24.3 billion euros, 3.1 billion euros more than he owned last year.


Arnault on Wednesday said he had withdrawn his application for Belgian nationality, which caused a storm last year when it was reported to be a reaction by the government’s proposed temporary 75 per cent tax on incomes over a million euros.


“The recovery effort should be shared,” he told Le Monde newspaper.


Second in the rich league is L’Oréal heiress Lilianne Bettencourt, at 23.2 billion euros, up 7.9 billion euros in a year.


Bettencourt, who has been through a long legal dispute with her daughter, is the centre of a scandal over alleged illegal funding of former president Nicolas Sarkozy’s election campaign.


But Challenges’ rival, Capital, claims that some of the figures are overestimates.


By “going further than the usual analyses” and factoring in the subjects' debts, it has reduced Arnault’s wealth to 18 billion euros and his position to fourth and Bettencourt’s to 21.66 billion, although she keeps her number two ranking.


The Mulliez family, which owns the Auchan supermarket chain, holds top position with 24.55 billion euros, according to Capital.


The personnel of the top 10 remains the same in both lists, although their wealth and positions are different.


Not everyone has held up during the crisis.


The Peugeot family, whose company has been hard hit by declining European demand, has suffered a 70 per cent drop in its wealth in the last two years.