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Meet the Gun-Toting, Teetotaling, Jet-Skiing Russian Billionaire Running Against Putin

In the wake of rising dissatisfaction with Vladimir Putin and protests against irregularities in Russia’s recent parliamentary elections, Mikhail Prokhorov’s decision to run for president was greeted with a lot of excitement. But, soon enough, paranoia set in: Is he a freedom-loving democrat, an opportunist, or just another Putin stooge? While the jury is still out on that question, one thing is clear enough: He’s incredibly rich, and perhaps like most über-wealthy individuals, he’s cultivated quite a few … eccentricities. Here are just a few that stand out. 

1. He will be seeking a first lady in time for next year’s election (and he’s looking for a woman who can cook for him.) Prokhorov’s associates have recently told him he needs to marry if he wants to challenge Putin in next year’s election. The problem is Prokhorov seems to want a second (and a third, and...). A notorious playboy, Prokhorov has run afoul of authorities on suspicion of promoting prostitution in the past. But he claims that he’s just looking for his soul mate. That, and, as he told Steve Kroft, a woman who can cook. A true romantic at heart. 

2. He experienced the luckiest arrest ever for prostitution. Few individuals can claim this feat, but for Prokhorov, getting arrested on suspicions of soliciting prostitution in 2007 in France was one of the best things that ever happened to him. The resulting media coverage embarrassed Prohkorov’s business partner in Norilsk Nickel; the partner demanded that Prokhorov sell his stake in the company. Prokhorov complied … just before the financial crisis hit. Having billions in liquid cash, Prokhorov then proceeded to go on a shopping spree for marked-down assets.

3. He owns several automatic weapons. Prokhorov should feel right at home in America given his fondness for exercising his right to bear arms. Of course, when you’re worth roughly $17 billion—even Prokhorov can only guesstimate his net worth within a few billion—you can afford slightly better toys. Like brand new Russian Special Forces guns.

4. He loves to jet ski and has no idea where his $45 million yacht is. Buying a $45 million yacht might seem like an odd choice for someone who gets seasick easily. But only if that person isn’t a Russian oligarch named Mikhail Prokhorov. After all, what else is Prokhorov supposed to use as a base for his excellent jet skiing adventures? The best nugget? Prokhorov doesn’t even know where his “small yacht” is. That’s what you pay commoners to keep track of!

5. He made his initial money on imitation stonewashed jeans. Coming out of the Moscow Finance Institute in the 1980s, Prokhorov was looking for ways to make cold hard rubles. He noticed at the time that Russians were desirous of Western styles and fashions—and so he sold them on the wonders of stonewashed jeans, earning his initial fortune.

6. He says he’s never been drunk or tasted vodka. Well known as a party boy—a Muscovite quoted in a New York profile notes, “It used to be that you go to certain clubs and if at some moment about fifteen barely legal girls show up all at once, you could tell that Prokhorov is about to stop by”—Prokhorov nevertheless claims that he has never tasted vodka or for that matter been drunk at all.

7. Upon buying the New Jersey Nets, he said “America, I come in peace.” Prokhorov marched into public consciousness when he became the first foreign owner of a major American sports team, scooping up the Nets for a bargain. Naturally, this piqued the curiosity of the media, and naturally Prokhorov held a press conference. What may not have been expected was his opening line—seemingly straight out of an alien invasion movie. Perhaps a President Prokhorov would finally lead that “reset” in U.S.-Russian relations we’ve been talking about so much.

8. His top five passions are business, sports, food, human interaction, and beautiful women. Prokhorov’s top interests read like anybody else’s: business, sports, and food. But his common touch doesn’t stop there. He told Steve Kroft that he also enjoys human interaction and beautiful women—these are, of course, separate things. A natural politician.

9. He has a society magazine of wealthy Russian socialites called Snob. Prokhorov is a man of empires, and one small part of his empire is a magazine for the “Global Russian” called Snob. With branches in Russia, England, and the U.S., it aims at that elusive and prized demographic—the Russian émigré. Apparently he does not expect it to make a profit, as it is a “rounding error” for him, and what’s the cost of a glossy magazine between friends?

10. The magazine is run by his sister, Irina, with whom he lived until eight years ago. According to an unnamed source in a New York profile, Prokhorov has one “overriding complex”: “He’s not as smart as his sister, and he wants her approval.” Perhaps this is the best context for another interesting piece of information: that until eight years ago, Prokhorov lived with his sister in the same 500-square-foot Moscow apartment that he grew up in.

11. He lost a $53 million deposit on a house in the French Riviera. Losing the deposit on a property is bad enough. It’s worse when that property is the most expensive in the world. Prokhorov ended up losing a court battle over the aforementioned deposit after withdrawing his bid on a French Riviera villa valued at over half a billion dollars. (It apparently takes at least 50 gardeners to maintain the property). Even oligarchs have their bad days.

Matt O’Brien and Darius Tahir are interns at The New Republic.