Andrew Osborn








Mikhail Prokhorov promises to give away billions if he wins Russian presidency

The Daily Telegraph, 4th February 2012 12:14

By Andrew Osborn in Moscow

A billionaire Russian oligarch challenging Vladimir Putin for the presidency in an election next month has promised to give away the bulk of his estimated £11.5 billion fortune to charity if he wins.

Mikhail Prokhorov, a metals tycoon and Russia's third richest man, made the pledge during a stormy televised debate with another presidential contender late on Thursday night after being accused of effectively robbing his way to wealth in the 1990s.

"I will sell everything, all my assets when I become president and donate almost all of the money to charity," the 46-year-old businessman said.

The owner of large stakes in giant gold and aluminium companies as well as the proprietor of an American basketball team, Mr Prokhorov said he would keep one billion dollars, the equivalent of £640 million pounds, to himself for personal expenses after life in the Kremlin.

"I will need something to live on," he said without apparent irony.

Mr Prokhorov's promise is something he is unlikely to be held to any time soon however. One of five candidates vying for the presidency in a March 4 election expected to be easily won by Vladimir Putin, the prime minister, the oligarch's popularity ratings remain in single digits for now.

The promise from the newest political figure to enter the tightly stage-managed world of Russian politics in years came as the country's anti-Kremlin opposition prepared to brave sub-zero temperatures for a major protest in central Moscow on Saturday.

With the mercury hovering at around minus 20 degrees Celsius, organisers have said they plan to gather up to 50,000 people for a march to a square opposite the Kremlin where they intend to hold a brief meeting.

Although tens of thousands of people are expected to attend, albeit briefly, there are signs that the crowd numbers will fall some way short of two big protests in December which saw up to 80,000 people take to the streets of Moscow.

The protesters' demands essentially remain the same: to cancel the allegedly falsified results of a parliamentary election in December won by Mr Putin's ruling United Russia party and to enact serious reform to the country's authoritarian political system.

The marchers are also pressing for the Kremlin to release more than forty people they consider political prisoners such as former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was jailed on fraud charges his supporters believe were politically-motivated.

Mr Putin's supporters are organising their own rival rally in his support on Saturday in another part of Moscow. The strongman Russian politician has openly mocked the protesters while conceding that there is a need for serious political change.

An opinion poll released on Friday by a state-run pollster showed he would win 52 per cent of the vote if a presidential election was held now negating the need for a run-off.