Mukesh Ambani, the boss of Reliance Industries, India’s largest private oil and gas company, is not shy of controversy — building a $2 billion sky-scraping home in Mumbai, right next to Asia’s second-largest slum Dharavi, is one particularly blatant example.
Even so, his fortune continues to rise. Mukesh was named the richest man in Asia on Sunday, with a net worth of $26.8 billion. However, his wealth has not made him any new friends.
Mukesh remains locked in a long and increasingly bitter dispute with the Indian government over the fast-declining output from Reliance’s Krishna Godavari D6 (KG-D6) Block in the Bay of Bengal, once the company’s crown jewel. Meanwhile, his very public spats with younger brother Anil, who heads up Reliance Group, the second piece of their father’s business empire, take up numerous column inches in international newspapers.
Anil accused Mukesh in 2006 of covertly working with India’s ex-petroleum minister to annul a gas supply deal that would provide Reliance Group’s power unit with gas from KG-D6 at a reduced rate. Wildcat guesses that given the block’s poor performance, it is unlikely Anil will be receiving any gas in the next couple of years, no matter what the price.
Still, the brothers can comfort themselves in the counting house.
Mukesh’s ranking among fellow Asian billionaires went up this year despite a 35% fall in Reliance Industries’ share price in 2011, which forced Mukesh to stage the largest stock buyback in Indian corporate history. With this week’s ranking, the 55-year-old overtook his countryman Lakshmi Mittal, the chairman of steelmaker ArcelorMittal and third on the list with a net worth of $23.6 billion. Mittal, 62, last year landed in sixth place on Forbes’ list of the world’s top billionaires, while Mukesh came in at number nine. SS