He is the younger brother of Nikolai Durov. A few years after his dismissal as CEO of VK in 2014, the Durov brothers traveled the world in self-imposed exile as citizens of St. Kitts and Nevis. Durov joined the World Economic Forum (WEF) Young Global Leaders in 2017 as a representative of Finland. In August 2021, Durov was naturalized as a French citizen. As of September 29, 2022, his net worth is estimated at US$15.1 billion. According to Forbes, in 2022, he was named the richest person in the United Arab Emirates. In February 2023, Arabian Business called him the most powerful entrepreneur in Dubai.
In 2006, Durov started VKontakte with Ilya Perekopsky, later known as VK, which Facebook initially influenced. When he and his brother Nikolai built the VKontakte website, the company grew to a value of $3 billion.
In 2011, he was involved in a clash with the police in Saint Petersburg when the government demanded the removal of the pages of opposition politicians after the 2011 Duma elections; Durov posted a photo of a dog with its tongue sticking out wearing a hood, and the police left after an hour when he didn’t answer the door.
In 2012, Durov publicly posted a photo of him holding his middle finger and called it an official response to Mail.ru Group’s efforts to buy VK. In December 2013, Durov decided to sell his 12% to Ivan Tavrin (at that time, 40% of the shares belonged to Mail.ru Group and 48% to United Capital Partners). Tavrin later resold these shares to Mail.ru Group.
On April 1, 2014, Durov submitted his resignation to the board; initially, because the company confirmed he had resigned, it was believed to be related to the Russo-Ukrainian War, which started in February. However, Durov claimed it was an April Fool’s Joke on April 3, 2014.
On April 16, 2014, Durov publicly refused to hand over the personal data of Ukrainian protesters to Russia’s security agencies and blocked Alexei Navalny‘s page on VK. Instead, he posted the relevant orders on his VK page, claiming the requests were unlawful.
On April 21, 2014, Durov was dismissed from the position of CEO of VK. The company claimed it acted based on his earlier resignation letter, which he failed to recall. Durov then claimed that the company had effectively been taken over by allies of Vladimir Putin, suggesting that his ouster was the result of both his refusal to hand over users’ data to federal law enforcement and his refusal to hand over personal data of people who were members of a VK group dedicated to the Euromaidan protest movement. Durov then left Russia and stated that he had “no plans to return” and that “the country is incompatible with Internet business at the moment.”
Upon leaving Russia, he received citizenship of St. Kitts and Nevis, donating $250,000 to the Foundation for Diversification of the Country’s Sugar Industry and securing $300 million in cash in Swiss banks. This allowed him to focus on creating his next company, Telegram, focused on an encrypted messaging service of the same name. Telegram’s headquarters were in Berlin and later moved to Dubai. In January 2018, it was revealed that Durov was launching the ‘Gram’ cryptocurrency and the TON platform to monetize Telegram’s growing success. It raised a total of $1.7 billion from investors. However, the American regulator SEC halted these ventures, arguing in court that Grams bypassed U.S. financing laws and should return the money to its investors.
In 2018, Russia tried to block Telegram after the company refused to cooperate with Russian security services. A leaked letter from an FSB official stated that the blocking was related to the company’s intention to launch the Telegram Open Network. During the attempted blockade, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs continued to operate the app’s official channels. The blocking order was lifted in 2020 after two years of blocking attempts, which the service reportedly avoided using domain fronting. The reason was that Telegram agreed to “counter terrorism and extremism” on the platform.
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