The Nobel Peace Prize that Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov was auctioning off to raise money for Ukrainian child refugees sold Monday night for US$103.5 million ($162m), shattering the old record for a Nobel.
A spokesperson for New York's Heritage Auctions, which handled the sale, could not confirm the identity of the buyer but said the winning bid was made by proxy. The $103.5m sale translates to $100 million Swiss francs, hinting that the buyer is from overseas.
The live auction happened on World Refugee Day. Previously, the most ever paid for a Nobel Prize medal was US$4.76 million in 2014, when James Watson, whose co-discovery of the structure of DNA earned him a Nobel Prize in 1962, sold his.
Three years later, the family of his co-recipient, Francis Crick, received US$2.27 million in bidding also run by Heritage Auctions.
Muratov, who was awarded the gold medal in October 2021, helped found the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta and was the publication's editor-in-chief when it shut down in March amid the Kremlin's clampdown on journalists and public dissent in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
It was Muratov's idea to auction off his prize, having already announced he was donating the accompanying US$500,000 cash award to charity. The idea of the donation, he said, "is to give the children refugees a chance for a future."
Muratov has said the proceeds will go directly to Unicef in its efforts to help children displaced by the war in Ukraine.
Melted down, the 175g of 23carat gold contained in Muratov's medal would be worth about US$10,000.
In an interview with the Associated Press before the auction, Muratov said he was particularly concerned about children who have been orphaned because of the conflict in Ukraine.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitri A Muratov sold his medal for 100 million Swiss francs. Photo / AP
"We want to return their future," he said.
He said that it was important international sanctions levied against Russia do not prevent humanitarian aid, such as medicine for rare diseases and bone marrow transplants, from reaching those in need.
"It has to become a beginning of a flash mob as an example to follow so people auction their valuable possessions to help Ukrainians," Muratov said in a video released by Heritage Auctions, which handled the sale but is not taking any share of the proceeds.
Muratov shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year with journalist Maria Ressa of the Philippines.
The two journalists, who each received their own medals, were honoured for their battles to preserve free speech in their respective countries, despite coming under attack by harassment, their governments and even death threats.
Muratov has been highly critical of Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and the war launched in February that has caused nearly 5 million Ukrainians to flee to other countries for safety, creating the largest humanitarian crisis in Europe since World War II.
Independent journalists in Russia have come under scrutiny by the Kremlin, if not outright targets of the government. Since Putin came into power more than two decades ago, nearly two dozen journalists have been killed, including at least four who had worked for Muratov's newspaper.
In April, Muratov said he was attacked with red paint while aboard a Russian train.
Muratov left Russia for Western Europe on Thursday to begin his trip to New York City, where live bidding began Monday evening.
Online bids began June 1 to coincide with the International Children's Day observance.
Early Monday, the high bid had been only US$550,000. The purchase price had been expected to spiral upward, but perhaps not over US$100 million.
"It's a very bespoke deal," said Joshua Benesh, the chief strategy officer for Heritage Auctions. "Not everyone in the world has a Nobel Prize to auction and not every day of the week that there's a Nobel Prize crossing the auction block."
Since its inception in 1901, there have been nearly 1000 recipients of the Nobel Prizes honouring achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and the advancement of peace.
The ongoing war and international humanitarian efforts to alleviate the suffering of those affected in Ukraine are bound to stoke interest, Benesh said, adding it's hard to predict how much someone would be willing to pay for the medal.
"I think there's certainly going to be some excitement Monday," Benesh said. "It's such a unique item being sold under unique circumstances ... a significant act of generosity, and such a significant humanitarian crisis."
Muratov and Heritage officials said even those out of the bidding can still help by donating directly to Unicef.