Alisher Usmanov and Irina Viner : The story of the Muslim Billionaire and his Jewish wife
By Yael Segev and Alexandra Ella /
Back in the late ‘eighties Irina Viner, a young divorced Jewish mother of a small child, was coaching rhythmic gymnastics and fighting to find her way in the crumbling Soviet Union. However, even in her wildest dreams she could not have imagined that Alisher B. Usmanov, the timid Muslim fencing champ, who she had dated years before in their mutual homeland Uzbekistan – would marry her and make her one the richest women in Russia.
In addition to being the head trainer of the Russian gymnastic team, Irina is also known for introducing the married (but separated) President of Russia Vladimir Putin to his beautiful girlfriend and the mother of his 3-year-old son, Alina Kabaneva, a former member of her team. Russians have been whispering that the oligarch’s business had blossomed along with the president’s affair.
People may talk, but the couple, but seem only to focus only on increasing their wealth. Usmanov’s empire, which is estimated to be worth 18 billion dollars, is gaining more and more power outside of Russia. Usmanov, the chair of Gazprom Investholdings, who also owns a 45% stake in Russia’s largest iron producer Metalloinvest, has recently earned 1 billion dollars from his 2009 investment in a social media giants Facebook and Tweeter. He has invested large amounts in major international websites, such as Groupon and Zynga.
Usmanov, the 5th richest man in Russia, is one of the country’s media tycoons. He is the owner of the mobile telephone group Megaphone, holds 7 federal TV channels, more than 30 local TV stations, and several major internet companies. The oligarch, who owns a giant estate on Rublyovka, one of the most prestigious parts of Moscow, shares his time between the Russian capital and his amazing Victorian mansion in London. He is part owner of England’s famous Arsenal football club.
Usmanov started his fortune by producing simple plastic bags, which were in high demand in the fragile days following the collapse of the USSR. He swiftly learned how to identify business opportunities in the awakening Russian state. He started to buy up assets of the former Soviet Union and in a short while he created the Gametal company after restructuring two plants – the Oskol Electrometallurgical and the Lebedinsky Mining & Processing Plant. Later he purchased more and more Gazprom and Metalloivnest shares in the open market.
Usmanov may now be a close friend of the current almighty ruler of Russia, but life has not always been easy for the Tashkent native, who was imprisoned for 6 years under the Soviet regime. After the fall of the Communists, Usmanov, who always claimed to be a political prisoner, was released from jail and all charges against him were expunged from police records. Usmanov eventually graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.
Usmanov and his wife have donated millions of dollars for charity and even purchased a well-known art collection for the state museum. More than 20 years have passed since the couple’s marriage in 1992, but the Muslim oligarch and his Jewish wife, who have no children together, still keep the old flame burning.