Carlos Slim Helu is the richest man in the world

The annual Forbes billionaire list says Mexico's Carlos Slim Helu is the richest man in the world, finally edging out Microsoft founder Bill Gates and signaling the rising wealth in developing nations.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File
Lifetime Honorary Chairman of Telefonos de Mexico Carlos Slim Helu participates in the Wall St. Journal CEO Council on 'Rebuilding Global Prosperity' in Washington in this November 16, 2009 file photo. He is the richest man in the world on Forbes rich list.
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Mexico's Carlos Slim Helu is the richest man in the world.

The annual Forbes billionaire list puts the portly cigar-smoker just ahead of Bill Gates, who held the title for 14 of the past 15 years.

Shares of Slim’s telecommunications company America Movil surged 35 percent over the year, bringing his fortune up $18.5 billion in the past 12 months to $53.5 billion, according to the Forbes rich list released Wednesday.

IN PICTURES: Forbes: The richest men in the world

Gates is worth $53 billion, up $13 billion from a year ago. Warren Buffett – the world’s richest man in 2008 – now ranks third, with his fortune growing $10 billion over the year to $47 billion.

Slim, 70, is the first man from a developing nation to become the world’s richest person, but is only the tip of the iceberg for poorer nation's billionaires as America's share of billionaires dropped to 40 percent from 45 percent of the total a year ago.

Over the past year, Taiwan tripled its number of billionaires to 18, Turkey more than doubled its own to 28, and Brazil and Russia doubled their billionaires to 18 and 62, respectively. For the first time China, with 64 billionaires, has the most outside the US.

Eight Indians and 27 chinese made Forbes magazine’s latest list of the top 100 billionaires. Two Indians – energy tycoon Mukesh Ambani and steel mogul Lakshmi Mittal – sit in the top 5.

Slim has dominated Mexico’s telephone industry since he bought the state-run telephone company Telmex in 1990 and spun it off into America Movil. Today in Mexico Telmex controls about 80 percent of fixed lines, while America Movil services over 70 percent of the nation’s cellphone users.

But Slim’s title is jarring to many, since more than 50 million of Mexico’s 107 million people live in poverty, according to Mexican government monitor Coneval.

"This is shameful," Ernesto Villanueva, 45, of Mexico City, told the Associated Press. "This is part of what is wrong with the Mexican political system and the corruption in the circles of power, that allow there to be a few rich people and millions of poor."

But to Slim, the criticism and the richest man title appear to mean little.

"This is a number brought out by a magazine that doesn't concern us, or worry us," his son-in-law Arturo Elias Ayub, an executive at Telmex, told the AP.

In 2007, Slim was asked about his failure to take No. 1 on the list.

"Me es impermeable," he replied: "I'm impervious to that."

IN PICTURES: Forbes: The richest men in the world

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