Mystery billionaire emerges from corporate shadows

Variously described as publicity-shy, secretive, even mysterious, Ivan Glasenberg's most prized asset had been his closely guarded privacy.

Three weeks ago, few even knew the powerful South African-born businessman was an Australian citizen, let alone that he was the country's second-richest person, worth an estimated $8.8 billion.

The decision by the world's largest commodities trader, Glencore, to partially float the company on the stock exchange has made instant millionaires of 485 senior employees - and catapulted their boss firmly into the limelight.

Mr Glasenberg owns just under one-sixth of Glencore, netting him a windfall greater than what Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were worth when they floated the internet search company in 2004.

The mantle of Australia's richest person belongs to mining magnate Gina Rinehart, who rode the resources boom to more than double her fortune this year to $10.3 billion, becoming the first woman to top BRW's annual Rich 200 list.

Last year's No. 1, shopping centre mogul Frank Lowy, fell five spots to sixth, with a net worth of $4.98 billion.

In a list top-heavy with resources tycoons, Fortescue Metals boss Andrew Forrest is third with $6.18 billion, up from $4.24 billion last year; cardboard king Anthony Pratt is fourth with $5.18 billion, up from $4.6 billion; while Clive Palmer, fresh from announcing the float of his coal and iron ore mining company Resourcehouse, rounds out the top five with $5.05 billion, up from $3.92 billion.

But the bolter making worldwide headlines is Mr Glasenberg, the chief executive of a company which itself is shrouded in secrecy and dogged by a shadowy past.

Glencore's founder, billionaire commodity trader Marc Rich, is infamous for illegally trading oil with Iran in the 1980s.

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He fled the United States with 51 criminal charges against his name - including tax evasion, fraud and racketeering - but escaped jail after receiving a mysterious pardon from Bill Clinton in the last few days of his presidency.

Joining Glencore in 1984, Glasenberg is believed to have gained his Australian citizenship while working in the company's Sydney office for two years shortly afterwards.

In 1994, Mr Glasenberg was part of a management-led buy-out of Mr Rich. He was appointed chief executive in 2002.

The company has never been far from controversy. Glencore was cited in a 2004 CIA report for paying $US3.2 million in illegal kickbacks to obtain oil from Saddam Hussein's Iraq regime in breach of United Nations sanctions.

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