MEXICO CITY — Facing mounting criticism for his $49-billion fortune in a nation where nearly half the population lives in poverty, telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu on Monday portrayed his business empire as a family enterprise that is creating jobs and investment in Mexico.
It was Slim's first public appearance since Forbes magazine last week announced that his net worth surged $19 billion in 2006. Slim ranked third behind Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates ($56 billion) and American investor Warren E. Buffett ($52 billion) on the magazine's annual list of the world's richest people.
Asked by a reporter to explain his stunning increase in wealth, the 67-year-old Slim pointed to a soaring stock market that increased the value of his telecom companies, notably America Movil, the largest provider of cellphone service in Latin America.
"The stock market goes up ... and down," said Slim, who noted that a dive in the market could erode his fortune just as fast. He spoke at the headquarters of his financial services firm Inbursa, one of many businesses he owns in Mexico. More than 100 journalists packed the hastily arranged news conference in a salon containing works from Slim's vast art collection, including a pair of sculptures by Rodin that flanked the dais where he spoke.