Sunday, March 27, 2011

Is Hosni Mubarak really worth $40-$70 Billion?

The $40-$70 Billion estimate, promulgated by the drive-by-media in early February, intensified the fury of the Egyptian protesters who ultimately deposed Hosni Mubarak.

The Guardian UK and ABC News were among the primary sources of this estimate.

An article in the Guardian UK, entitled "Mubarak family fortune could reach $70bn, say experts" and an ABC News article [Feb. 2] entitled, "Mubarak Family May Have as Much as $70 Billion Stashed Away, Experts Estimate", sized up Mubarak's worth to be anywhere between $40-$70 billion.

On March 25, however, the Guardian amended its headline to read, "Mubarak family fortune could reach $70bn, says expert." ["Expert", in the singular form]

An editor with Guardian-UK conceded on March 21 that the aforementioned article had given "the misleading impression that that figure was a widely held view."
"Why did you publish a story that said Mubarak's family fortune was $70bn?" an Egyptian reader asked me in a face-to-face encounter in Cairo last week. For him it was not an academic question: "Some people thought it was part of a plan to encourage the revolution." He was one of a group of journalists discussing the merits and difficulties of self-regulation of the press and the role of in-house ombudsmen in a two-day training session at the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo...

The figure for his fortune came from a political science professor at Princeton University [an Arab political science professor]... The problem with this story was that, of the sources relied upon, only the Princeton academic was prepared to put a figure on how much the fortune might run to – $40bn-$70bn. In the headline and the introductory paragraph one "expert" became "experts", giving the misleading impression that that figure was a widely held view. Our Egyptian colleagues were right to pick us up on that failing.
On February 11, however [coincidentally, the same day that Mubarak had decided to step down, wink, wink], CBS News reported that the $70 billion estimate was highly exagerated:
There are no hard figures on Hosni Mubarak's wealth - only widely divergent estimates from $2 billion to $70 billion based on few facts. Experts and government officials say the $70 billion often cited by protesters is likely overblown.

Why? $70 billion would make Mubarak the richest man on the planet, richer than Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim or Bill Gates. One government source said it was hard to believe that a man who was never known for being among the most wealthy would suddenly emerge as the richest man in the world.

"I would be very, very surprised if it was 70 billion," said Kerry Dolan, a Forbes Senior Editor who oversees Forbes Magazine's World's Billionaires list.

Dolan says the Forbes list only looks at capitalist billionaires yet she finds the $70 billion estimate "exaggerated and unproven". Dolan says measuring dictators' wealth is extremely difficult, "You've got to get really lucky or you need some serious authority," she said...
Nevertheless, in 2008, Forbes estimated Saudi King Abdullah's net worth at $21 billion, which - if the Guardian's estimate is correct - makes Mubarak considerably wealthier than the world's number one oil exporter, which seems highly unlikely.

ABC News - which also gleaned its initial $70 billion estimate from the aforementioned political science professor, [and from one other professor who offered a nod of approval to the $70 billion estimate], changed its tune and wrote as follows on February 11 [coincidentally, the same day that Mubarak had finally decided to step down - wink, wink]:
Newly deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his family have a fortune of $1 billion to $5 billion stashed in foreign banks, according to U.S. intelligence estimates.

Some experts have estimated that the Mubarak family has a net worth as high as $70 billion, while others have reported $40 billion, but U.S. intelligence sources told ABC News that the real number is probably much lower.

A senior U.S. official said she "had no clue" why estimates circulating in the media in recent weeks were so much higher. "Maybe they're counting in dinars," she said.
Maybe, or maybe the drive-by-media simply felt obligated to inflate the numbers.

As the old adage goes: "The ends [always] justifies the means."...