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This billionaire just paid $4 million for a Nobel Medal only to give it back

December 10, 2014

James Watson with medal. James Watson with medal.
James Watson with medal. Courtesy of Christie's Image LTD. 2014

This post is in partnership with Time. The article below was originally published at

By Naina Bajekal, TIME

One of the richest men in Russia, Alisher Usmanov, has come forward as the anonymous buyer of James Watson’s Nobel medal, which was sold for more than $4 million at an auction at Christie’s in New York last week.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin And Russian Billionaires At Russia Business Week ConferenceAlisher Usmanov, Russian billionaire and owner of USM Holdings Ltd.Photograph by Andrey Rudakov — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Usmanov, who is worth an estimated $15.9 billion, has now revealed he will return the piece to Watson who shared the 1962 Nobel prize in medicine for discovering the structure of DNA, alongside Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins.

This was the first time a living recipient of the Nobel Prize has sold their medal. Watson told the Financial Times in November that he had been spurned by the scientific community and made to feel like an “unperson” since he gave an interview in 2007 in which he suggested that black people were inherently less intelligent than white people.

Watson has said he needs the money but would also give some of the proceeds to different research institutions and charities and that he hopes to re-enter public life as a result.

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

“It is important for me that the money that I spent on this medal will go to supporting scientific research,” Usmanov added, “and the medal will stay with the person who deserved it.”

Read more: The mortification of James Watson