Russian Billionaire Returns Nobel Prize to James Watson

6-17-15 James Watson Vladimir Fortov
Vladimir Fortov, right, president of the Russian Academy of Sciences, gave James Watson his Nobel Prize medal back at a Moscow ceremony on June 17, 2015. Alexander Zhukov

Russian Academy of Sciences President Vladimir Fortov gave back James Watson’s Nobel Prize medal Wednesday in a ceremony in Moscow, six and a half months after the controversial geneticist sold the medal to raise money for various charities and potentially himself. Russian billionaire Alisher Usmanov purchased the medal at auction in December with the intention of returning it to Watson.

“The returning of the Nobel Prize medal to James Watson is a wonderful and important event,” Fortov says in a press release emailed to Newsweek. “It is an acknowledgement of the scientist’s achievements and his contribution to global science. I am particularly pleased that this has taken place in Russia, here at the Russian Academy of Sciences, as Russia has a rich history in science and a tradition of philanthropy and patronage. Today’s event confirms once again that science and charity serve all of humanity and know no borders.”

Watson won the award in 1953 for his part in the groundbreaking discovery of DNA’s double helix structure. On December 4, he became the first living Nobel laureate to auction off his prize, which sold at Christie’s in New York City for $4,757,000 (including the auction house’s premium, or commission). Usmanov—whom Forbes values at $14.1 billion, as the former richest man in Russia—came forward as the buyer less than a week later, saying he had purchased the prize with the intention of returning it to Watson. Usmanov was not present at Wednesday’s ceremony.

“It was a huge honor for me to be able to show my respect for a scientist who has made an invaluable contribution to the development of modern science,” Usmanov says, according to the press release. “These kinds of awards must remain with their original recipients. It important to me that the money will be used for the development of medicine, meaning it will help to save lives in the future.”

Neither Usmanov nor Fortov commented in the press release on Watson’s other claim to fame—disparaging comments he made on the intelligence of black people, which garnered outrage in 2007.

Watson had said before the sale that he planned to donate some of the proceeds to support “scientific research, academic institutions and other charitable causes,” according to Christie’s. Newsday reports that the recipients included Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, where Watson is chancellor emeritus, as well as a number of Long Island charities (such as Long Island Cares), several colleges in Ireland and the three universities Watson attended (the University of Chicago, Indiana University and Cambridge University).

Before the sale, Watson told The New York Times that he might use some of the money to support himself and his family after making philanthropic contributions, and mentioned his desire to purchase a David Hockney painting.

“I am immensely grateful to Mr. Usmanov for such a generous gesture,” Watson says in the Wednesday press release. “It is the highest praise I could receive for my work following the discovery of the structure of DNA.”