Aug. 14 (Bloomberg) -- Alisher Usmanov, Russia’s richest man, topped Chelsea Football Club Ltd. owner Roman Abramovich as the most generous charity giver in the country last year.
Usmanov, 60, gave almost $194 million of his $17.3 billion fortune to philanthropic causes in 2013, more than any other of the country’s top billionaires, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Abramovich, Russia’s sixth-richest person with a $13.9 billion fortune, topped the list of givers from 2010 through 2012. He declined to provide details of his spending for last year.
Bloomberg surveyed Russia’s 25-richest people and 12 provided information about their donations in 2013, which totaled $548 million, or about 0.2 percent of their combined $252 billion net worth. The giving is a 12 percent increase from 2012.
While the worst geopolitical standoff since the Cold War over the Ukraine conflict is squeezing Russia’s richest and pushing its economy into recession, the escalating tensions may also be helping to spur greater giving among the billionaires, according to the West Malling, England-based Charities Aid Foundation.
“If the economy goes down significantly, they probably won’t be able to continue giving at the same level,” Maria Chertok, head of the Russian branch of CAF, said by phone in Moscow. “But the worse the reputation of Russia in the West, the more people will try, if possible, to mitigate this by showing a different face of Russia, for example by promoting Russian culture.”
Russia’s 25 richest people, many of whom maintain financial ties with the West, have lost $21.8 billion since the start of the year amid the market turmoil provoked by the Ukraine confrontation. The richest 64 Americans have added $42.5 billion in that period, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Usmanov, the 46th richest person in the world, owns a London mansion and Tudor manor house, as well as about 30 percent of London’s Arsenal soccer team. He helped finance an exhibition last year of Pre-Raphaelite paintings at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum that were mostly borrowed from London’s Tate Britain.
Gennady Timchenko, an associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is Russia’s 17th-richest person with a fortune valued at $8.6 billion and has been placed under individual sanctions by the U.S. The billionaire said this month that he’s supporting a permanent exhibition of Russian art at the Louvre in Paris.
Vladimir Potanin, Russia’s fifth-richest person, spent $3.5 million on a Russian Lounge that opened this year at the Kennedy Center in Washington.
Usmanov controls OAO Metalloinvest Holding Co., Russia’s largest iron-ore producer, mobile-phone operator MegaFon OAO, and stakes in Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and other technology companies. He focused his gifts on education, sports and culture. He sponsors the Russian Fencing Federation, the Pushkin Museum, the Mariinsky Theatre and the Moscow State Institute of International Relations, among other institutions.
In July, a major exhibition of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich opened in London at Tate Modern, a day before the downing of a Malaysian passenger aircraft in rebel-controlled eastern Ukraine that killed all 298 people on board and led to a new round of sanctions against Russia by the U.S. and its allies.
The Malevich show was sponsored by the foundation of Ukrainian-born billionaire Len Blavatnik, a U.S. citizen and former shareholder in BP Plc’s Russian oil joint venture TNK-BP, as well as Alfa Bank, which is controlled by Blavatnik’s former TNK-BP partners, billionaires Mikhail Fridman, German Khan, Petr Aven and Alexey Kuzmichev.
Abramovich, whose charitable budget of $310 million from 2010 to 2012 was higher than the $247 million spent by Usmanov in the period, fell behind in 2012, when he donated $43 million less than Usmanov’s $154 million.
“Mr. Abramovich continues to give very generously to good causes, and he would surely rank at or near the top of the survey, but charitable giving is a personal undertaking and we don’t want to participate in an annual disclosure exercise,” John Mann, Abramovich’s spokesman, said in an e-mail.
Andrey Skoch, 48, a partner of Usmanov’s, was ranked second in this year’s survey, giving away $65.5 million in 2013, most of it to fund medical treatment and equipment, as well as funding to restore war memorials.
Suleiman Kerimov, 48, was the third-largest giver, with $62 million. He’s the largest shareholder of Polyus Gold International Ltd. and channels funds through his Lucerne, Switzerland-based foundation into religious, medical, sports and educational projects.
Viktor Vekselberg, 57, who last year sold a 12.5 percent stake in TNK-BP for about $7 billion, gave away $50.5 million, making him the country’s fourth most-charitable billionaire. He helped fund a Jewish museum and tolerance center in Moscow and the Skolkovo high-technology center near the Russian capital.
Potanin, the largest shareholder and chief executive officer of OAO GMK Norilsk Nickel, the world’s biggest producer of the metal, was the fifth-largest giver among Russian billionaires. The 53-year-old donated about $39 million, mainly to educational and cultural institutions including the State Hermitage Museum.
Potanin, worth $14.7 billion, last year became the first Russian to join Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge, committing to give away at least half of his wealth to charitable organizations and philanthropic causes. He said then that he made the decision in part to protect his children from “the burden of extreme wealth” and planned to leave them as little as $10 million each.
Timchenko, 61, who increased his charitable spending by 86 percent to $20.5 million, was the 8th-biggest donor, behind steel tycoon Alexey Mordashov and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who ranked 7th with $25 million.
Timchenko said in an interview with news service Itar-Tass this month that one of his daughters, Ksenia, had decided to volunteer for a charity project in India after graduating from Edinburgh University, describing civic responsibility as a “good trait” of Western education.
“I agree with Potanin that there’s no sense in leaving too much to one’s children,” he said.
Charitable giving in Russia remains among the least developed in the world, according to the CAF.
In December, a 2013 CAF survey ranked Russia 123rd out of 135 countries assessed on the basis of their citizens’ charitable contributions and charitable work.
Russia’s Micex Index has fallen 6.6 percent, compared with the 6.9 percent gain the MSCI Emerging Markets Index.
The foundation of billionaire Oleg Deripaska, who donated about $18 million last year, the same as in 2012, said the budget hasn’t been reduced so far. “For the moment, we aren’t cutting financing of our programs in 2014, but we are trying to make them more efficient.”
(An earlier version of this story was corrected to identify Abramovich as the biggest giver from 2010 through 2012, not in 2012.)
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