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Billionaire who won Nobel Prize at auction returns it to owner, donates money

After recently buying the Nobel Prize medal auctioned off by American biologist James Watson last week, Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov declared on Tuesday that he plans to return the medal to its original owner.

According to the Guardian, Usmanov paid $4.1 million for Watson’s 1962 Nobel Prize in medicine last week, at an auction at Christie’s auction house in New York City. The medal, which was awarded to Watson and colleague Francis Crick for their discovery of the double helix structure of DNA, had been estimated at pre-auction to sell for $2.5 million to $3.5 million.

The New York Times reported that Usmanov – who is listed by Forbes as the richest man in Russia with a net worth of $15.8 billion from steel and mining, telecom, and investments – was distressed that Watson was selling his medal to give the proceeds to scientific institutions and charity.

“In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist sells a medal recognizing his achievements is unacceptable,” said Usmanov, according to Bloomberg. “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 wanted to fulfill Watson’s charitable wish without having to auction off the medal, even contacting Watson before the auction to offer a cash gift if he would call the auction off.

“James Watson is one of the greatest biologists in the history of mankind, and his award for the discovery of DNA structure must belong to him,” said Usmanov.