Alisher Usmanov, Russia’s richest man, bought the Nobel Prize medal of American biologist James Watson at a Christie’s auction and plans to return it.
Usmanov paid $4.1 million for the medal, awarded to Watson in 1962 for his work on discovering the structure of DNA, the billionaire’s USM Holdings said in a statement today.
“In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist sells a medal recognizing his achievements is unacceptable,” Usmanov said in the statement. “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.”
The auction was held at Christie’s in New York on Dec. 4. The medal had been given a pre-auction estimate $2.5 million to $3.5 million, the auction house said.
Watson plans to give the proceeds to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the University of Chicago, and Clare College, Cambridge.
The gifts mean “I can continue to do my part in keeping the academic world an environment where great ideas and decency prevail,” Watson said in a statement last week. “I also intend to direct funds to the Long Island Land Trust and other local charities I have long supported.”
Watson, 86, who was awarded the prize together with Francis Crick, has been ostracized by many in the scientific community since he made comments linking race and intelligence in a 2007 newspaper interview.
Usmanov, whose fortune is estimated at $14.4 billion by Bloomberg Billionaire Index, holds stakes in companies including Metalloinvest Holding Co, Russia’s largest iron ore producer, and mobile phone operator OAO MegaFon.
He has also invested in technology companies, including Facebook Inc. (FB) and Alibaba Group Holdings Ltd.