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These nuptials may just be an excuse to party

Russia's most eligible bachelor supposedly will wed in May to win a bet. But to whom?

March 18, 2007|Erika Niedowski | Baltimore Sun

MOSCOW — Time is running out on the swinging single days of the man known as Russia's most eligible bachelor. Mikhail Prokhorov, the tall, fine, feverish spender who amassed $13.5 billion running the world's largest nickel producer, is getting hitched 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 where the women are aplenty and 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 in the French Alps shortly after New Year's in a prostitution investigation. Authorities released him, without pressing charges, after four days of questioning.

It is unclear, at least to the 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 is 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, which was called off.

How did it come to this? Prokhorov apparently made a bet -- with whom, and for what, is not known -- to wed before he turns 42, which happens May 3.

Either he is a man of his word, or he hates to lose. Perhaps both. He reportedly has said, enigmatically, that he will wed the "pervoi vstrechnoi," which means, literally, the "first one he meets."

"Misha 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 may 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 is expected to dissolve it after five days.

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 in the news enough.

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 earlier this month, 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's lost a little weight since her 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?"

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 will take place on two islands in the Maldives, a chain of more than 1,000 isles in the Indian Ocean. Unmarried couples will stay on Kurumba; married ones on Paradise. Prokhorov himself will reach Paradise only after exchanging vows. Some 700 or 800 guests will attend, shuttled in on charter planes. In all, Prokhorov's "family life" will cost him some $10 million.

The wedding may well be one of the most expensive in post-Soviet Russia, although that of another billionaire, banker Andrei Melnichenko, reportedly 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."

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