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The Palatial Power Pads of the World's 10 Richest People

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For the second year running, Mexican telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helú has topped the Forbes list of richest people, this time with an estimated fortune of $74B. In the past year, Slim added some $20.5B to his net worth and at least one superlative home to his portfolio, the Duke Semans Mansion on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue. The megarich Mexican spent $44M to take over the only remaining single-family home on that storied boulevard. Though now hemmed in by a post-war apartment tower, the facade retains its pre-war elegance and location opposite the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The interior is apparently in need of a serious overhaul, which might explain why the only available photos are close-ups of the fine interior detail. Slim purchased from fellow billionaire Tamir Sapir, who had planned on opening a museum of his own—to display his massive collection of ivory—until he was busted for trying to illegally import some of that collection aboard his yacht. We're guessing that's the sort of absentmindedness that earned former cab driver Sapir his lowly $1.4B net worth.

? He might never bother to say it, but Bill Gates literally gave away the title of world's richest man. The Microsoft founder has donated some $30B to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which Forbes calls the "world's most influential charity." Gates—who's now worth $56B—isn't shy about spending a little on himself, either, as evidenced by his 48,000-square-foot home in Medina, Wash. The property was assessed in 2008, with an estimated value of $147.5M. That same year, Gates paid more than $1M in property taxes alone. Unsurprisingly, the home is awash in technology, including an RFID chip system—embedded in wearable pins—that allows the house to match the temperature, music, and lighting in each room to the preferences of the wearer.

? Much has been made of the fact that wonder investor Warren Buffett lives in a middle-class neighborhood in Omaha, Neb., in the same house he purchased for $32K in 1957. Less is said, or known, about Buffett's other real estate holdings, like this Laguna Beach, Calif. manse (top right of photo), which is valued at around $4M. Then again, in this universe, $4M for a home is the utmost of frugality. The Oracle of Omaha prefers to spend his cash on companies. In 2009, he plunked down $26B for the railroad behemoth Burlington Northern Santa Fe and was more recently quoted saying, "Our elephant gun has been reloaded, and my trigger finger is itchy." For our sake, we hope he aims it at some fancy new digs.

? Frenchman Bernard Arnault—head of the luxury goods conglomerate LVMH—is the fourth richest person in the world, with an estimated wealth of $41B. Arnault seems content to spend every season in his native France. His family is a fixture of the social scene in ritzy St. Tropez, where he keeps this palatial waterfront villa. In Courchevel 1850, a small outpost in the French Alps, he recently built the Cheval Blanc Hotel. A paradise for the rich and famous and nothing short of a temple to excess, the hotel offers a $305 truffle-laden breakfast, a $67,000 bottle of wine, and a duplex suite that rents for $28,000 per night.

? A 30 percent surge in the value of his Oracle stock meant Larry Ellison counted his wealth at $39.5B, placing him fifth in the world. Impressive, too, considering Ellison has been busying himself in fields other than business of late. In 2010, after a decade-long $100M campaign, he took home yachting's greatest prize, the America's Cup. He's also been on a bit of a buying spree when in comes to real estate. He paid around $10M for the former Astor family "cottage" in Newport, R.I. and spent $43.2M for the Porcupine Creek golf course in Ranch Mirage, Calif. His heart, however, is in Woodside, Calif., where he's dropped more than $200M building a palatial Japanese-style retreat. Set atop a man-made lake, the compound was made in the style of a 16th-century country residence for a Japanese emperor. It's what we might delicately refer to as "unique," and the tax authorities agreed, giving Ellison a $3M tax break based on the "finite market for high-end luxury homes, limited appeal for 16th-century Japanese architecture and the over improvements and excessive landscaping."

? Indian steel baron Lakshmi Mittal, with an estimated net worth of $31.1B, used his wealth to purchase one of the world's finest homes, London's 18-19 Kensington Palace Gardens. He acquired the palatial property in 2004 for the astronomical sum of $128.25M, setting a worldwide record for a residential real estate transaction. More recently, Mittal is said to have purchased a 340-acre country estate outside London, with the intention of building a $40M eco-friendly home. None of this spending is too surprising for the man whose daughter-in-law rescued fashion label Escada from bankruptcy on a whim.

? Amancio Ortega, the world's seventh richest citizen, is such a recluse that he sent a simple note to announce his retirement from the European retail giant Zara. (He's so reclusive that we couldn't find a single photo of a single property the man owns.) Making up for all the secrecy is the eighth richest man, Eike Batista, who has an estimated wealth of $30B. And unlike Ortega and some of his wealthy compatriots, Batista has a tendency to flaunt it. He got his start in the rough-and-tumble world of Brazilian gold mining and speculation, before moving on to oil exploration, powerboat racing, and marrying Playboy centerfolds. Today, he inexplicably keeps a $450K Mercedes SLR parked in the living room of his Rio de Janeiro estate (above) and has been a champion of Brazilian national pride, contributing to the efforts to attract both the World Cup and the Olympics to his native land.

? Last year, Mukesh Ambani, who has reaped a $27B fortune from oil and gas production, built one of the largest private homes in the world: a 27-story building in Mumbai, India that measures almost 400,000 square feet. Inside, 600 staffers attend to the Ambani family's needs and maintain amenities like the 160-car parking garage, 50-seat theater, and "ice room" where residents and guests can escape the subtropical heat with man-made snow. As extravagant as this living situation seems, it wasn't much of a step up for Ambani, who moved from a 25-story building nearby. Estimated cost: $1B.

? Now it's back to the U.S. for #10, Christy Walton, the widow of Walmart heir John Walton. The family's massive wealth didn't stop Christy from wanting a "normal" upbringing for her children, so they moved to National City, Calif., a suburb of San Diego, to raise their son Lucas. There, she purchased one of the oldest houses in town, a stately 1896 Victorian that was built by the fledgling town's postmaster. After the 2005 death of her husband in a Jackson, Wyo., plane crash, Walton decided to donate the home to the International Community Foundation, a non-profit aimed at promoting cross-cultural understanding. Fittingly, the house is located just nine miles from the Mexican border.
· Carlos Slim Helu [Forbes]
· All Duke Semans Mansion coverage [Curbed NY]
· Duke Semans Mansion Shows Off Its Interior Details in, uh, Detail [Curbed NY]
· Bill Gates [Forbes]
· Gates' Taxman Cometh [Seattle Weekly]
· Warren Buffett [Forbes]
· Warren Buffett's Laguna Beach House [Wikimapia]
· Bernard Arnault [Forbes]
· Truffle Breakfast, $67,000 Bordeaux Entice at Arnault Hotel [Bloomberg]
· Larry Ellison [Forbes]
· Astor's Beechwood Sold to Billionaire Software Tycoon [Newport Now]
· $3 million tax cut on Larry Ellison's estate [SFGate]
· Lakshmi Mittal [Forbes]
· The world's most expensive house [Rediff]
· Mittal Family Buys Escada, Moving into Luxury Goods [Bloomberg]
· Amancio Ortega [Forbes]
· Eike Batista [Forbes]
· Brazilian Billionaire Eike Batista, the World’s Eighth Richest Person [Richest Persons]
· Mukesh Ambani [Forbes]
· Inside the World's First Billion-Dollar Home [Forbes]
· Christy Walton [Forbes]
· Wal-Mart Heir Leaves Home to Local Charity [Mia Taylor]