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Vietnamese developer joins billionaire Asians: Forbes

WASHINGTON, March 5 (BSS/AFP) - A Vietnamese property developer who started out making noodles in Ukraine joined mega- rich Hong Kong magnate Li Ka-shing for the first time on Forbes magazine's world's billionaires list yesterday.

Cheung Kong and Hutchison Whampoa chief Li were no surprise as Asia's richest and the world's eighth richest man, his fortune hitting $31 billion, thanks in part to Hong Kong's unending property boom.

Less known was 44 year old Pham Nhat Vuong, who pushed onto the list at number 974 with a net worth put at $1.5 billion, a landmark achievement for Vietnam 27 years after the country gingerly launched its "doi moi" economic opening.

Pham earned the slot based on his 53 percent control of real estate developer Vingroup, Forbes said.

A Soviet-trained mathematician and economist, Pham got his taste for business launching a Vietnamese restaurant in Ukraine and turned that into an instant noodles company he sold in 2010 to Nestle for $150 million, Forbes said.

In the meantime he had been putting money into property in Vietnam as it opened up, starting with a luxury resort hotel and then a Hanoi office tower.

With regional stocks having sunk over the past three years, Asian billionaires have lost some of their presence at the top end of the annual Forbes list.

Hong Kong had the most in the top 100, thanks to the city's real estate gains.

But overall the second richest Asian was India's oil and gas magnate Mukesh Ambani, coming in at 22nd with a fortune built on his huge Reliance Industries group, put at $21.5 billion.

Ambani was followed closely at number 24 and 26, respectively, by Hong Kong property stalwarts Lee Shau Kee (Henderson Land, $20.3 billion), and the Kwok brothers Thomas and Raymond (Sun Hung Kai) $20 billion).

India's Lakshmi Mittal was number 41 with $16.5 billion and New World shipping founder Cheng Yu-tung of Hong Kong was 45th at $16 billion.

Coming in at number 58 was Thailand's Dhanin Chearavanont, head of the Charoen Pokphand food and industrial conglomerate, his fortune by Forbes' estimate seen to have doubled over the past year to $14.3 billion.

China, the world's second largest economy, placed 122 people on the Forbes list, which identified 1,426 billionaires worldwide. The US was first with 442.

The richest Chinese, Wahaha beverage owner Zong Qinghou, only came in at 86th with $11.6 billion, up from $6.5 billion a year ago.

Second among Chinese was Wang Jianlin, chairman of the Dalian Wanda property group, who with $8.6 billion ranked number 128.