Billionaires: Bill Gates pledges $100 million to fight coronavirus

In our fortnightly roundup, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation dedicates additional funding to help contain and treat the disease and a one-time Indian billionaire says he’s now worth zero

(FILES) In this file photo taken on September 26, 2018 Bill Gates and his wife Melinda Gates introduce the Goalkeepers event at the Lincoln Center in New York. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation pledged on February 5, 2020 to commit up to $100 million for the global response to the novel coronavirus epidemic that has claimed nearly 500 lives. The funding will be used to strengthen detection, isolation and treatment efforts, the foundation said, including protecting at-risk populations and developing vaccines and diagnostics.
 / AFP / Ludovic MARIN
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Bill Gates

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation plans to commit up to $100 million (Dh367m) for the global response to the novel coronavirus. The new funding, which is inclusive of $10m pledged to the outbreak in late January, will be used to improve detection, isolation and treatment efforts, the foundation said in a statement earlier this month.

It will also be used to “protect at-risk populations in Africa and South Asia” and “accelerate the development of vaccines, drugs and diagnostics”, the statement said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30. The total number of infected people in China has reached more than 75,500 with at least 2,200 fatalities as of Saturday morning.

Up to $20m of the funding will be immediately directed to multilateral organisations, such as WHO and the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, and national public health authorities in China, to speed up the detection, isolation and treatment of people diagnosed with the virus.

Another $20m will focus on Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, which together account for the majority of people worldwide living in extreme poverty and have limited access to quality primary health care, factors that substantially increase their health risks.

Finally, up to $60m will be earmarked for vaccines, treatments and diagnostics for the virus.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has made grant payments totalling over $50bn since it was founded in 2000.

Other billionaires who have recently donated to help support coronavirus relief efforts include: Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma with 100 million yuan (Dh52.3m); Hong Kong’s richest man Li Ka Shing with HK$100m (Dh47.2m); Ray Dalio, founder of hedge fund Bridgewater Associates, with $10m; and Citadel founder Ken Griffin with $7.5m.

Indian industrialist and Reliance ADAG CEO Anil Ambani speaks during a news conference in Mumbai on June 2, 2017. - Indian billionaire Anil Ambani insisted June 2 that debt-saddled Reliance Communications had a bright future as he moved to reassure investors who are worried that the telecoms company is close to defaulting on loans. (Photo by PUNIT PARANJPE / AFP)
Anil Ambani is the brother of Mukesh Ambani, who is worth $56.6bn and is the richest man in Asia. Photo: AFP

Anil Ambani

The brother of Asia’s richest man was ordered to set aside $100m in his dispute with three Chinese banks, even as he pleaded poverty.

“The value of my investments has collapsed,” Anil Ambani said, according to a London court filing by banks seeking around $700m in defaulted loans. “My net worth is zero after taking into account my liabilities. In summary, I do not hold any meaningful assets which can be liquidated for the purposes of these proceedings.”

The lawsuit was filed by three state-controlled Chinese banks, which argue that they provided a loan of $925m to Ambani’s Reliance Communications in 2012 with the condition that he personally guarantee the debt. Mr Ambani’s comments were disclosed as he tried to avoid depositing hundreds of millions of dollars with the court ahead of a trial.

Earlier this month, Judge David Waksman ordered Mr Ambani to put up $100m into the court’s account within six weeks. Mr Ambani plans to appeal.

The embattled Indian tycoon says that while he agreed to give a non-binding “personal comfort letter”, he never gave a guarantee tied to his personal assets — an “extraordinary potential personal liability”.

The 60-year-old is the brother of Mukesh Ambani, who’s worth $56.6bn, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, and is the wealthiest man in Asia. Anil, on the other hand, has seen his personal fortune dwindle over recent years, losing his billionaire status. His Reliance Communications filed for bankruptcy last year.

Anil has “clearly got more assets and income than he’s letting on,” the judge said. “What I’m dealing with is an extraordinarily wealthy family who have helped each other in the past.” Mr Waksman said he didn’t believe that Mr Ambani’s family “have firmly and irrevocably brought the shutters down”.

Mr Ambani’s lawyer, Robert Howe, had argued that the court shouldn’t order his client to make a payment he can’t cover. The tycoon argues that that an order requiring him to do so would hinder his ability to defend himself in the case, Mr Howe said.

“Mr. Ambani is reviewing the order of the UK court and will take legal advice as to further remedies in appeal”, representatives for Ambani’s Reliance Group said.

Bankim Thanki, an attorney representing Industrial & Commercial Bank of China, China Development Bank and the Export-Import Bank of China, said in a filing that Mr Ambani’s statements are “plainly a yet further opportunistic attempt to evade his financial obligations to the lenders”.

“We hope that Mr. Ambani will comply with the court’s order and look forward to the swift resolution of the case at trial,” the banks said in a statement.

Mr Ambani was caught up in another legal wrangle last year, when India’s Supreme Court threatened him with prison after Reliance Communications failed to pay to pay 5.5bn rupees (Dh281.6bn) to Ericsson’s Indian unit. The judges gave him a month to find the funds, and his brother, Mukesh, stepped in just in time to make the payment.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on February 7, 2020 gallery assistants are pictured posing next to an artwork entitled 'The Splash' 1966, by British artist David Hockney, during a photo call at Sotheby's Galleries in central London. Seminal pop art painting "The Splash" by David Hockey sold for £23.1 million ($29.8 million) at a Contemporary Art Evening Auction in London on the evening of February 11, 2020, the third highest price paid for a work by the British artist.   - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY MENTION OF THE ARTIST UPON PUBLICATION - TO ILLUSTRATE THE EVENT AS SPECIFIED IN THE CAPTION
Media mogul David Geffen reportedly paid $30m for 'The Splash'. Photo: AFP

David Geffen

David Geffen had a big week of buying and selling — splashing $30m on art after selling his home to Jeff Bezos for $165m. The media mogul reportedly snapped up the most expensive painting of the London auction season, David Hockney’s “The Splash”.

Mr Geffen, 76, had owned the 1966 canvas before, until he sold it around 1985, according to a Sotheby’s catalogue. It was most recently owned by fugitive Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau, who bought in it 2006 for £2.9m (Dh13.7m).

“The Splash” was backed with a third-party guarantee and drew just one bidder at the Sotheby’s auction.

Mr Geffen recently agreed to sell his Beverly Hills mansion to Mr Bezos, the world’s richest person. Mr Geffen paid $47.5m three decades ago.

A co-founder of DreamWorks and founder of Geffen Records, Mr Geffen is worth an estimated $9.1bn, according to Forbes.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 21, 2019 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg speaks during an event to open a campaign office at Eastern Market in Detroit, Michigan. Michael Bloomberg has qualified for the February 19, 2020 Democratic presidential debate and will square off for the first time with his rivals seeking the party nomination.The former New York mayor has surged to 19 percent support nationally, second to Bernie Sanders at 31 percent, in an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey.That meant he cleared a polling threshold set by the Democratic National Committee.
US Democratic presidential hopeful and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will sell his news company if he succeeds in his presidential bid. Photo: AFP

Michael Bloomberg

Democratic presidential contender Michael Bloomberg will sell Bloomberg, the financial data company that made him a billionaire, if he is elected to the White House in November, his campaign confirmed on Tuesday.

"If elected president, Mike will sell the company," spokeswoman Galia Slayen said.

Mr Bloomberg has risen quickly in opinion polls since entering the race for the Democratic nomination in November and he appeared in his first debate of the election cycle on Wednesday in Las Vegas. Democrats are vying for the right to challenge Republican President Donald Trump in the November 3 election.

Bloomberg provides financial information to Wall Street firms and financial institutions globally in addition to news. The company is privately held, with Mr Bloomberg himself owning most of the firm, which he founded in 1981 after being fired from investment bank Salomon Brothers. Analysts at Burton-Taylor International Consulting estimate the firm generated over $10bn in revenue in 2019.

The Bloomberg campaign said the process of selling the company would begin with putting it in a blind trust and then selling it.