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Five Things You Might Not Know About Alisher Usmanov

Tycoon Alisher Usmanov during a ceremony in the Kremlin in 2013
Tycoon Alisher Usmanov during a ceremony in the Kremlin in 2013

Tycoon Alisher Usmanov has revealed he purchased U.S. scientist James Watson's Nobel Prize gold medal only to return it to the 86-year-old DNA researcher.

Usmanov bought the auctioned medal for $4.8 million, merely pocket change for a billionaire said by "Forbes" to be worth $15.9 billion with his vast portfolio of steel, mining, and telecom investments among others businesses in Russia and abroad.

The 61-year-old ethnic Uzbek, who hails from Chust, a village in Ferghana Valley, has been ranked Russia's richest man and the second richest person in Britain. Usmanov, whose main residence is reportedly in the upmarket Rublyovka village outside Moscow, also spends time in at least two multi-million-dollar mansions in London and Surrey.

The self-made tycoon, who amassed his first fortune making plastic bags, has a thing or two that make him stand out of the crowd of other oligarchs: Here are five things to know about the tycoon "Forbes" magazine dubbed "The Hard Man Of Russia."

He's A Former Professional Athlete

Although he currently might not have the build and physical appearance of an avid sports or fitness enthusiast, Usmanov once was an accomplished fencer and a member of Uzbekistan's national team. Usmanov still keeps a keen interest in fencing as the head of the International Fencing Federation. In sports, Usmonov mixes pleasure with business: he acquired a 14.5-percent stake in England's Arsenal Football Club in 2007, before increasing his shares in 2011. He currently owns nearly a third of the lucrative soccer club.

He Has An Interest in Social Media And E-Commerce

Usmanov is said to be Russia's biggest investor in social media and e-commerce. He is the main shareholder in Russian Internet Group, Usmanov was one of Facebook's early investors but the tycoon indicated this year he had sold his entire Facebook stake. Usmanov has also said he has invested in Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, but he didn't disclose the size and value of the stake. He has also invested in China's low-cost smartphone maker Xiaomi, saying it is a "future technology giant." Usmanov has implied he is also turning his attention to technology investments in India, describing it as undervalued emerging market.

He's Made Some Eclectic Purchases, Some Politically Motivated, Others Not

Purchasing Watson's Nobel gold medal wasn't by far the first philanthropic gesture by Usmanov. He paid more than $20 million for an art collection owned by the late Russian musician Mstislav Rostropovich in 2007 before giving it to state-owned Konstantinovsky Palace near St Petersburg. Weeks later, Usmanov spent between $5 million and $10 million to purchase a large collection of Soviet cartoons from a U.S.-based owner and donated them to a Russian children's television channel. The Kremlin has awarded Usmanov's philanthropic acts with the prestigious Order for Services for the Fatherland.

He Married His Childhood Sweetheart

Usmanov, an Uzbek Muslim, caused a stir in Tashkent by marrying Irina Viner, a Jewish divorcee with a son from a previous marriage. Although the couple only married in 1992, they first met in a sports club in Tashkent when they were both teenagers. They have no children together. Viner is famous in her own right; she is a former three-time rhythmic gymnastics champion of Uzbekistan, and heads Russia's Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation. Aside from being the wife of a Kremlin-friendly tycoon, Viner has her own connections with the Kremlin: she was a gymnastics coach to Alina Kabayeva, President Vladimir Putin's rumored lover. Viner also campaigned for Putin during his 2012 presidential election campaign.

He Has No 'Heir-Apparent'

As Usmanov has no biological children of his own, Uzbek media had been speculating that the oligarch's Tashkent-based nephew, Babur Usmanov, was a potential "heir apparent" to his vast business empire. However, Babur, who was believed to be in his 20s, was reportedly killed in a car crash in Tashkent in May 2013. Usmanov reportedly has five other nephews and nieces, as well as a stepson, Anton, born in Tashkent in 1973.

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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.