The richest man in Russia and a major shareholder in Arsenal football club has come forward as the buyer of James Watson’s Nobel medal – declaring that he now plans to give the piece back.
Alisher Usmanov, the Russian entrepreneur, paid $4.1m (£2.6m) for the medal at an auction at Christie’s in New York city last week , but said he will return it to Watson, who with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, shared the 1962 Nobel prize in medicine for discovering the double helical structure of DNA.
Usmanov, whose steel, mining and other assets are worth $15bn according to Forbes, said he wanted the medal to remain with its rightful owner and for the money he spent on the item to be donated to scientific research.
“In my opinion, a situation in which an outstanding scientist has to sell a medal recognising his achievements is unacceptable,” Usmanov said in a statement.
“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,” he added.
Watson became the first living laureate to auction his Nobel medal in a sale that earned far more than the $3m that some experts had predicted. Last year, the family of Francis Crick, who died in 2004, sold his medal for $2.27m.
Before the auction, Watson said he was selling the medal to raise money for the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, from where he was suspended as chancellor after he claimed that black people were not as intelligent as whites .
Watson has been widely condemned for making sexist remarks too. He also raised the possibility of using the funds to buy a Hockney painting.
Crick and Watson’s discovery of the double helix structure of DNA drew heavily on the crystallography work of Rosalind Franklin at Kings College London. Franklin died of cancer in 1958, four years before the Nobel prize was awarded.
After the unusual intervention, Usmanov said that Watson could now keep the medal but donate the proceeds of the sale to the research institutions that had “nurtured him”, including the universities of Cambridge, Chicago and Indiana.
“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. I wouldn’t like the medal of the distinguished scientist to be an object on sale,” Usmanov’s statement said.
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