From Silicon Valley Darling Elizabeth Holmes to King of Good Times Vijay Mallya, 10 Billionaires Who Went From Riches to Rags
The fall from the top
While it is difficult to imagine that someone worth over a billion dollars could fall to $0 in no time, there are many such cases. Bad decisions, poor investments, debt, massive fraud, economic downturn and several others can contribute to a billionaire’s downfall. Here’s a look at the top 10 personalities who went from billionaires to bankrupt.
1. Bernie Madoff
Bernie Madoff was behind the biggest fraud in the history of mankind. Madoff’s net worth reportedly peaked in 2008 at $64.8 billion, according to Express UK. A March 2009 court filing found his net worth was at least $823 million. He was behind the longest-running ponzi scheme which accumulated over $65 billion over 17 years. He defrauded thousands of investors through Penny Stock Brokerage. He was caught by the FBI and sentenced to 150 years in prison with a forfeiture of $170 billion.
2. Eike Batista
Eike Batista was once the world’s seventh richest person, and in 2012 his peak net worth was estimated to be $30 billion, as per CNBC. The oil billionaire was the face of Brazil’s booming economy but his business started going downhill when his oil company, OGX could not keep up with promised production and investors pulled their money. His fortunes further declined when Brazil’s economy went into a tailspin, forcing him to file for bankruptcy. Later, a kickback scandal was uncovered in which Batista was involved along with several of Brazil’s most prominent politicians. They all were charged with money laundering and sentenced to 30 years in prison for corruption. Batista’s sentence was increased by eight years for market manipulation in 2019.
3. Elizabeth Holmes
Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of Theranos, was once on the cover of Forbes. Her company claimed to have invented a technology that could test for several diseases with just a few drops of blood, raking in investment worth millions. Theranos was valued at $9 billion before it was discovered that the company was far from delivering any such technology it promised. Holmes was convicted of criminal fraud and sentenced to 11 years in prison, per CNBC.
4. Sam Bankman-Fried
Sam Bankman-Fried was the CEO of Alameda Research and the Cryptocurrency exchange FTX and had a fortune of over $26 billion in 2022, per Forbes. Most of his wealth was tied up in ownership of FTX and FTT tokens. His companies collapsed after allegations of fraud and misconduct, which led to his net worth falling by 94% in a single day.
5. Chuck Feeney
Chuck Feeney’s fall from the top is unique as it wasn’t due to anything bad. Feeney was the founder of Duty Free Shoppers, an airport retailer, and a private equity firm General Atlantic. His companies propelled his net worth to around $8 billion at his peak, according to Celebrity Net Worth. In 2020, Feeney closed down his philanthropy company after giving away all his wealth, only keeping his retirement savings for him and his wife.
6. Sean Quinn
In 2010, Sean Quinn & family’s estimated net worth was about $2.3 billion, according to Forbes. The Irish businessman started with cement manufacturing and entered the hospitality industry. Quinn eventually went bankrupt because of the huge debt that his companies raked in. The Quinn group owed about 2.8 billion British pounds (over $$3.5 billion at present) to the Anglo-Irish Bank. In 2012, the Irish government declared Quinn bankrupt and he was given a 9-week sentence.
7. Robert Allen Stanford
Robert Allen Stanford gained and lost his fortune because of a ponzi scheme. At his peak, Stanford's net worth topped $2 billion, according to Celebrity Net Worth. He defrauded about 18,000 people and took over $7 billion. After his scheme was uncovered, Stanford’s net worth dropped to $0 and he was sentenced to 110 years in prison. However, unlike Madoff’s case, Stanford’s victims were able to recover their money.
8. Vijay Mallya
One of the most popular businessmen from India, Vijay Mallya once owned an airline, a liquor brand, and a Formula One team. The tycoon was famous for his luxurious and high-flying lifestyle which soon fell to ruins. At his peak in 2007, Mallya’s net worth was estimated to be $1.7 billion, per Hindustan Times. He was accused of criminal fraud and he has been in hiding in the UK with the help of a diplomatic passport. As per Business Standard, Mallya was wanted for a loan default of over $1 billion to a consortium of 13 banks.
9. Aubrey McClendon
The co-founder of major oil and gas company Chesapeake Energy, Aubrey McClendon was once worth $1.2 billion, per Yahoo Finance. His fortunes didn’t last long as in 2016, he was indicted on federal conspiracy charges for unfairly manipulating bids for drilling rights. McClendon unfortunately died in a car accident days after he was charged which some have speculated to be a suicide. Later creditors claimed that McClendon borrowed $465 million for business ventures in 2013 and sought payment from his estate.
10. Bernard Ebbers
The CEO of WorldCom, Bernard Ebbers, was worth $1.4 billion when his company appeared to be a thriving telecom company in the late 1990s, per Celebrity Net Worth. However, it was later found that WorldCom’s profits were improperly recorded for the wrong year, and billions of its expenses were classified as investments, to grossly inflate the company’s profits, as per 24/7 WallSt. While WordCom was defunct, Ebbers was sentenced to 25 years in prison before getting released in 2019 (on declining health grounds), a year before his death in 2020.
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