Want to bet that Russian mogul weds?

March 10, 2007|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,Sun Foreign Reporter

MOSCOW -- Time is running out on the single - and certainly the swinging - days of the man known as Russia's most eligible bachelor. Mikhail Prokhorov, the tall, fine, feverish spender who amassed a worth of $13.5 billion running the world's largest nickel producer, is getting hitched on May 3.

To win a bet. Or so the story goes.

Perhaps that's the only way to get him to settle down. The 41-year-old Prokhorov, after all, is known as quite a party man, throwing decadent bashes with women aplenty, where the cognac alone costs more than most Russians make in years. The excess has gotten him in trouble of late: Prokhorov was arrested in a glamorous resort town in the French Alps shortly after New Year's in connection with a prostitution investigation; authorities released him, without pressing charges, after four days of questioning.

It is unclear, at least to the inquiring public, whom Prokhorov might be marrying and whether love is in any way involved. Kseniya Sobchak, an impeccably appointed blond socialite who hosts a television reality show called Dom-2 and is referred to as Russia's Paris Hilton (as if the American one were not enough), has been mentioned as a contender.

She already owns a wedding dress, she has pointed out; she was formerly engaged to a Russian businessman trained at Harvard University and had planned a high-society wedding in 2005 that was called off.

A fair question: How did it come to this? Prokhorov apparently made a bet - with whom, and for what, is not known - to wed by the time he turns 42, which occurs on the third of May.

And, it seems, he is a man of his word. Or he hates to lose. Or, perhaps, both. He has reportedly said, enigmatically, that he will wed the pervoi vstrechnoi, which means, literally, the "first one he meets."

"Mishka said he would marry the first girl who came along," the newspaper Tvoi Dyen recently quoted a businessman "closely connected to the oligarch" as saying. "But he will have to choose her no later than March because it's necessary to draw up all the documents before the marriage."

There could be some other documents to draw up as well: those required for divorce. The same person from the Moscow registry office who will perform the marriage ceremony is expected to dissolve it, too, after five days.

Especially since his brush with the law in January, which was later called a "regrettable misunderstanding" by a spokesman for his company, Norilsk Nickel, Prokhorov can't be enough in the news.

Perhaps a joke

But there is one potential catch to the coverage of his impending nuptials: It could all be a hoax, just another excuse perhaps, as if Prokhorov needs one, to throw a party. Some have said the scheme was dreamed up during his detention in Courchevel, the French resort. He had to have something to do during his extended stay in a small cell.

Sobchak, a family friend of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin, who worked for her father when he was mayor of St. Petersburg, says it's not a joke.

"Misha is returning in three days," she told the tabloid Komsomolskaya Pravda this week, referring to his trip to an island off Venezuela where his bachelor party was held, "and we're going to the Maldives, to look at the hotel where we'll stay. Because there are still a few months left, it's necessary to see how the preparations for the wedding will go."

Sobchak says that she has lost a little weight since her earlier engagement but that she can always get her wedding dress tailored.

A former classmate of Prokhorov who works as a special correspondent for that newspaper, Anastasiya Pleshakova, confided - to the millions of readers of her paper - that Prokhorov has been talking of marrying at that age since his school days.

"At that time it was an excuse for his persistent admirers," she said. "Sort of, `You girls keep your distance.' Everyone was touched by Mishanya - what a sense of humor he has. Who could have suggested at that time that his matrimonial intentions were serious?"

Quite a bash

Even for a wedding that, so far, has no bride, the media have offered up teasing glimpses of what's in store. The five-day bash is to take place in the picturesque Maldives, a chain of more than 1,000 islands in the Indian Ocean. The festivities will be held on two; unmarried couples will stay on Kurumba, married ones on Paradise (Prokhorov himself will reach Paradise only after exchanging vows). About 700 or 800 guests will attend, shuttled in on charter planes. In all, Prokhorov's so-called "family life" will cost him around $10 million.

The wedding could well be one of the most expensive in post-Soviet Russia, though that of another billionaire, banker Andrei Melnichenko, was reported to have cost $35 million, including $3.6 million for Christina Aguilera to perform three songs. Melnichenko married a former Miss Yugoslavia in 2005.

Prokhorov is one of the few remaining bachelors among Russia's 33 billionaires.

"Holiday man - that's what his entourage calls Mikhail Prokhorov," said Tvoi Dyen. "His generosity is enough for everyone - he isn't stingy in spending money on his close friends, on countless close friends and on the fair sex. It's natural that the only thing he hides, under seven locks, is his heart."

erika.niedowski@baltsun.com

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