Billionaire elected head of Russia reform party

MOSCOW, Russia - A Russian pro-reform party on Saturday elected billionaire oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov as its chief, with the mission of challenging the dominance of Vladimir Putin's ruling faction United Russia.

Delegates elected Prokhorov unopposed as the new leader of the Pravoe Delo (Just Cause) party at an extraordinary congress in Moscow, party officials announced in a session broadcast live on state television.

Just two delegates voted against his candidacy, with 107 in favour, according to the results of the secret ballot.

But while Prokhorov's sudden entry into politics has created a flurry of excitement in the sometimes stagnant Russian political scene, sceptics have argued he has rarely troubled the Kremlin.

His election is the first time a top businessman has entered politics since the arrest in 2003 of oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose supporters say was punished for daring to finance opposition to strongman Putin.

Prokhorov was in 2011 rated as Russia's third richest man by Forbes Magazine, with an estimated fortune of $18 billion.

He heads the Onexim group, an investment firm with big interests in mining, new technologies, media and banking.