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Russian Billionaire Buys Nobel Prize Medal, Pledges Return to American Scientist


By Hubert Walker for CoinWeek ….

Alisher Usmanov, who, according to Forbes, is the richest man in both Russia and Britain, has revealed himself to be the anonymous buyer of American scientist James Watson’s Nobel Prize medal, recently auctioned by Christie’s for a record-breaking $4.76 million USD.

In a statement released through his company USM Holdings, Mr. Usmanov says that he intends to return the medal to Dr. Watson.

“In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist sells a medal recognizing his achievements is unacceptable,” Usmanov said.

James Watson, who won the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins for their work on the molecular structure of DNA, had previously stated that his career had been stymied after saying Black people were intellectually inferior to White people. His ostracism and resulting financial problems contributed to his decision to sell, Watson claimed.

Nevertheless, Watson pledged to donate some of the proceeds from the sale to charities and scientific research, including the Long Island Land Trust, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and Clare College, Cambridge.

“Dr. Watson’s work contributed to cancer research, the illness from which my father died. It is important for me that the money that I spent on this medal will go to supporting scientific research, and the medal will stay with the person who deserved it,” Usmanov said.

Who Is Alisher Usamov?

No stranger to charity himself, Mr. Usmanov has donated over $120 million to various causes, often of a cultural bent. He was also one of the financial backers of the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Relatively unknown in the United States, Usmanov is a powerful figure in Russian business and politics. Born in Uzbekistan under the Soviet regime, Usmanov earned a degree in international law in 1976 only to spend several years in prison during the ‘80s. USM Holdings was founded in 2012 to organize and better manage Mr. Usmanov’s vast entrepreneurial endeavors. Besides controlling Metalloinvest, Russia’s largest iron ore producer, he holds stake in many notable Russian internet, media, and telecom companies, such as VKontakte, Mail.Ru, OAO MegaFon, and Kommersant.

Soccer fans may know him as one of the owners of professional English football team Arsenal.

He is also a stakeholder in Facebook, Alibaba, Twitter, Groupon, and Zynga (the makers of mobile game FarmVille).

As of December 11, 2014, Mr. Usmanov has a net worth of $16.1 billion USD.

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Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker
Hubert Walker has served as the Assistant Editor of CoinWeek.com since 2015. Along with co-author Charles Morgan, he has written for CoinWeek since 2012, as well as the monthly column "Market Whimsy" for The Numismatist and the book 100 Greatest Modern World Coins (2020) for Whitman Publishing.

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