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Lord Browne vs the oil baron: How Tate's wing was named

  • Billionaire Len Blavatnik, 59, has been dubbed 'Britain's philanthropist in chief'
  • Tate Modern's new extension is being named Blavatnik Building after £50m gift
  • Decision was delayed for six years and coincides with exit of trustees chairman
  • Lord Browne and Mr Blavatnik clashed over Soviet oil deal he had called rigged
  • Tate Modern say timing of wing naming with Lord Browne's exit is unrelated

By Martin Robinson, Uk Chief Reporter For Mailonline

Published: 10:40 EDT, 5 May 2017 | Updated: 11:52 EDT, 5 May 2017

A billionaire oil baron who made his fortune as the Soviet Union collapsed has had a wing of the Tate Modern named after him for £50million - but only after a millionaire business rival announced he was leaving the world famous gallery's board.

Ukrainian-born Len Blavatnik, 59, who is worth £11.59billion, has been dubbed 'Britain's philanthropist in chief' having given away at least £130million to charities and universities across the UK in recent years.

Last night it was announced that the Tate Modern's futuristic new extension is being named the Blavatnik Building, which opened in June 2016.

The £50million he pledged to the gallery has been accepted six years after it was first offered and just before the gallery's chairman of trustees Lord Browne steps down in July.

Lord Browne and the billionaire, who has American and British citizenship, are said to have clashed in the early 1990s when he was BP boss and father-of-four Mr Blavatnik battled him for control of an oil company being sold off as the Soviet Union fell.

Len Blavatnik and his wife Emily Blavatnik, who is having a wing at the Tate Modern named after him
Len Blavatnik and his wife Emily Blavatnik, who is having a wing at the Tate Modern named after him
Lord Browne, who is leaving the Tate
Lord Browne, who is leaving the Tate

Len Blavatnik, 59, pictured with his wife Emily, has had a wing of the Tate Modern named after him as old rival Lord Browne was about to leave

Done deal: The Blavatnik Building's name was announced  six years since the tycoon pledged £50million towards the wing, pictured, which already opened to the public in June 2016
Done deal: The Blavatnik Building's name was announced  six years since the tycoon pledged £50million towards the wing, pictured, which already opened to the public in June 2016

Done deal: The Blavatnik Building's name was announced six years since the tycoon pledged £50million towards the wing, pictured, which already opened to the public in June 2016

His business TNK won and in his autobiography Lord Browne, who is worth around £45million, claimed the court battle was rigged, adding: 'a lot of people were clearly in cahoots', according to The Times.

Years later Odessa-born Mr Blavatnik, who is married to former ballerina Emily Blavatnik, moved to London and outbid Roman Abramovich to buy a 15-bedroom Kensington mansion for £41million in 2004. 

At one point he topped the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £13billion, with money invested in oil ventures and also various media businesses including music giant Warner.

He has also invested in the music streaming service, Spotify and Beats audio products and is the richest music billionaire in world with an estimated £11.59billion fortune.

But at the same time he also began pledging money to good causes including £50million for the Tate Modern in 2011.

Today as the gallery extension was named the Blavatnik Building bosses insisted that it was a coincidence the announcement came as Lord Browne was about to leave.

Outgoing Tate director Sir Nicholas Serota said: 'The generosity of this gift is almost unprecedented in Tate's history.

'The transformation and extension of Tate Modern was hugely ambitious and relied on many people to bring it to fruition, but Len Blavatnik's enthusiastic support ensured the successful realisation of the project and I am delighted that the new building now bears his name.

'The six million visitors who have already experienced the Blavatnik Building know what a huge difference it has made to Tate Modern and to London.'

Mr Blavatnik has topped the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £13billion, with money invested in oil ventures and also various media businesses including music giant Warner (pictured with artist Rita Ora)
Mr Blavatnik has topped the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £13billion, with money invested in oil ventures and also various media businesses including music giant Warner (pictured with artist Rita Ora)
Star investor: Mr Blavatnik has topped the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £13billion, with money invested in oil ventures and also various media businesses including music giant Warner (pictured with artists Rita Ora and Katherine Jenkins)
Star investor: Mr Blavatnik has topped the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £13billion, with money invested in oil ventures and also various media businesses including music giant Warner (pictured with artists Rita Ora and Katherine Jenkins)

Star investor: Mr Blavatnik has topped the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £13billion, with money invested in oil ventures and also various media businesses including music giant Warner (pictured with artists Rita Ora and Katherine Jenkins)

Grand: The famous Tate Modern - a former power station - sits on the bank of the Thames and its new Blavatnik wing on the right of the picture 
Grand: The famous Tate Modern - a former power station - sits on the bank of the Thames and its new Blavatnik wing on the right of the picture 

Grand: The famous Tate Modern - a former power station - sits on the bank of the Thames and its new Blavatnik wing on the right of the picture 

Mr Blavatnik said: 'My family and I are honoured to support Tate, and to be linked to this exceptional building. Tate provides incomparable service to the arts, culture and education throughout the world.'

He is the richest music billionaire in world with an estimated £11.59billion fortune
He is the richest music billionaire in world with an estimated £11.59billion fortune

He is the richest music billionaire in world with an estimated £11.59billion fortune

The major international industrialist and philanthropist, was born in the Soviet Union and emigrated to the US with his family in 1978, becoming a US citizen in 1984, and a UK citizen in 2010.

The billionaire gave Oxford £75million – one of the biggest donations in the institution's history – to set up the Blavatnik School of Government in 2012.

The school unveiled new premises designed by Herzog & de Meuron, the architects behind the Tate Modern, in the same year.

Critics tried to derail the naming and accused Oxford of failing to investigate whether Mr Blavatnik was involved in alleged state-sponsored harassment of BP staff in Russia.

Signatories to an open letter including academics, human rights activists and Russian dissidents, called on the university to 'stop selling its reputation and prestige to Putin's associates'. 

The signatories included Pavel Litvinov, one of eight people who protested in Red Square in 1968 against Moscow's invasion of Czechoslovakia. He was exiled for five years to Siberia.

The letter was also signed by Vladimir Bukovsky, jailed by the KGB. Mr Bukovsky, who lives in Cambridge, exposed the Kremlin's use of psychiatric treatment against dissidents.

Mr Blavatnik's family foundation has funded projects and exhibitions at several arts venues in Britain, including the National Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, the Museum of London, the Imperial War Museum, the British Museum and the Royal Opera House.

In 2016, his foundation funded the new Hall at the V&A redevelopment.

The Tate Modern extension was also funded by £50 million investment from the Government, £7 million from the Greater London Authority and £1million from Southwark Council as well as a number of private individuals, trusts and foundations.

The extension, to the south of Tate Modern's vast Turbine Hall, opened to the public in June 2016. 

Prince William talks to Len Blavatnik during a tour of the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford, which was opposed by some
Prince William talks to Len Blavatnik during a tour of the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford, which was opposed by some

Prince William talks to Len Blavatnik during a tour of the Blavatnik School of Government in Oxford, which was opposed by some

Deal maker: The oil mogul outbid Roman Abramovich to buy a 15-bedroom Kensington mansion for £41million in 2004
Deal maker: The oil mogul outbid Roman Abramovich to buy a 15-bedroom Kensington mansion for £41million in 2004

Deal maker: The oil mogul outbid Roman Abramovich to buy a 15-bedroom Kensington mansion for £41million in 2004

Transparency International told The Times that institutions accepting large donations can face risks, including money laundering. There is no suggestion that Mr Blavatnik is doing or ever has done this.

Executive Robert Barrington told the newspaper: 'The influx of money of dubious origin from overseas has gone hand in hand with a rise in reputation laundering and naming rights.

'Those who accept substantial donations need to make sure they have done a thorough due diligence check and have the courage to put principle above financial advantage'.

Tate says it carries out due diligence on all major offered donations, which also goes through its ethics committee.

A spokesman said: 'Mr Blavatnik has a well-known track record for philanthropy, in particular for his support for education, scientific and cultural institutions internationally. Tate's ethics committee approved the acceptance of this generous donation'. 

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