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Russian oil magnate wants more eggs in his basket

© 2004 gazeta.ru May 19, 2004

MOSCOW - A $100 million spending spree would satisfy most people. But Russian business tycoon Viktor Vekselberg, who splashed out at least this amount for a glittering collection of rare Faberge Imperial Easter Eggs so that he could return them to Russia, wants to shop some more.

Exuding opulence with their gold, platinum, diamond and rubies, the distinctive eggs Ц between seven and 30 cm (three inches to 12 inches) tall Ц made their first appearance in Russia for many decades on Tuesday when they went on display at Moscow's Kremlin. Their owner, the 47-year-old oil and metals magnate, is planning to buy more of the many valuable works of art and national treasures that left Russia when the Tsars were overthrown and communism took over in 1917.

"We want to find, acquire and return to our homeland objects of Russian culture and art," Vladimir Voronchenko, chairman of Vekselberg's non-profit foundation that was set up when he bought the eggs, told journalists. "We are planning today to complete two other interesting acquisitions. In terms of their socio-cultural and historical meaning, I think they will be even more interesting than the first step taken in acquiring the Faberge collection."

But he would not say exactly what the new items on the shopping list were. Vekselberg surprised many when he bought the Forbes publishing family's nine Imperial Easter eggs and other Faberge pieces in February. He surprised even more people with his goodwill gesture of bringing them back to display in Russia.

So-called oligarchs, such as Vekselberg, who made their money in the 1990s by buying state firms for a fraction of their market value, are often disliked by ordinary Russians who earn barely $200 per month. Vekselberg co-owns SUAL, Russia's second largest aluminium producer, and also co-owns Russian oil major TNK-BP.

Ranked third among Russia's richest businessmen by Forbes journal last week, the purchase of the Faberge collection will have only slightly dented his estimated $5.9 billion fortune. The pinnacle of Vekselberg's collection is the golden Coronation Egg commissioned by Tsar Nicholas II, one of the most valuable objects made by Faberge.

Faberge eggs were first commissioned by Russian Tsar Alexander III in 1885 for his wife. There are some 50 Imperial Easter Eggs in the world.