Page last updated at 15:32 GMT, Friday, 27 January 2006

Britain's heavy metal billionaire

By Toby Poston
BBC business reporter

Lakshmi Mittal, Mittal Steel chairman and chief executive
Lakshmi Mittal is worth an estimated $25bn

Metals magnate Lakshmi Mittal has a keen eye for a bargain.

Combined with his razor-sharp understanding of the steel market, it has enabled him to emerge from virtual anonymity as the industry's undisputed number one player.

He established the foundations of his fortune over the past two decades by doing much of his business in the steel industry equivalent of a discount warehouse - buying the unwanted assets of other steel groups or snapping up worn out state-owned plants.

His family-owned firm, Mittal Steel, now ships well over 40 million tonnes of steel a year from sites in 14 countries, including Romania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, South Africa, Poland, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and the US.

And Mr Mittal now writes rather larger cheques when he goes shopping.

This time he is bidding 18.6bn euros (12.7bn) for rival Luxembourg-based firm Arcelor.

Rich List

The deal would create the world's first 100 million tonnes a year steel producer, with a 10% share of the world market.

It would give Mittal Steel extra capacity to cope with growing demand from the rapidly growing economies of China and India.

Mittal Steel's emergence as the industry's biggest company has mirrored its owner's astonishing rise up the 'Rich List'.

Last year he rocketed up Forbes magazine's list of billionaires, vaulting 59 places to land at number three behind Microsoft's Bill Gates and hedge fund impresario Warren Buffett.

The planet's third-richest man is worth an estimated $25bn.

15a Kensington  Palace Gardens
Houses in Kensington Palace Gardens don't come cheap

So it's hardly surprising that the 'Carnegie from Calcutta' is perhaps better known for his expensive tastes than his business deals in the unfashionable world of heavy metal.

London pad

In fact some of his recent personal purchases would have even had Russian tycoon Roman Abramovich checking there was enough cash in his account.

Take his house, or rather his neo-Palladian mansion, in London's exclusive Kensington Palace Gardens.

Bought from Formula One tycoon Bernie Ecclestone in 2003 for 70m, it is said to be the most expensive private residence ever bought.

Many of the floors and pillars are said to be made of marble imported from the quarry used to construct the Taj Mahal.

It has Turkish baths, a ballroom, an oak-panelled picture gallery and a jewelled basement pool while security is controlled by 65 state-of-the-art CCTV cameras.

Oh, and there is the other 9m bolt-hole in Highgate, North London.

But they can be viewed as investments, unlike the estimated 34m he generously spent in the summer of 2004 hosting his daughter Vanisha's wedding celebrations in France.

Amit Bhatia and Vanisha Mittal
Plenty to smile about for the bride and groom

According to Indian press reports, over a thousand guests lucky enough to receive one of the 20-page, silver-plated invitations were flown in from around the world for five days of festivities.

Letter from Tony

But his most notorious expenditure came in the form of a donation to the Labour party.

The 125,000 donation to the party just before the 2001 General Election sparked a major political row, dubbed 'Mittalgate".

Both the Mr Mittal and the Labour Party have denied that it was connected with a letter that Prime Minister Tony Blair wrote a few weeks later, supporting the steel magnate in a deal to buy a state-owned Romanian steel firm.

Four years later Mr Mittal was even more generous, giving Labour a 2m donation, one of the largest the party has ever received.

But despite his billions and powerful political connections, Mr Mittal doesn't get things all his own way.

Last August he lost a long-running dispute with one of his North London neighbours who was given permission by the council to build a new block of flats overlooking his garden.

Poor chap.

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