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Russian authorities launch criminal investigation into Prokhorov-owned media

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Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

Russian media report that authorities have launched a criminal investigation into RBC, the independent media company owned by Mikhail Prokhorov.  This comes less than a month after security forces raided ONEXIM, the Prokhorov holding company in Moscow.

Prokhorov has not been named as a target in the investigation, which appears to be limited to those who run RBC.

According to reports, Russia's Interior Ministry has launched a criminal probe into alleged fraud by RBC (officially RosBusinessConsulting)  media holding, which is a subsidiary of ONEXIM.  RBC has been aggressive in reporting on a variety of business dealings by the Kremlin elite, including President Vladimir Putin's daughter.

In a broadcast last month, Russian state media boss and television anchor Dmitry Kiselyov held up a copy of RBC's newspaper and accused the holding of helping the United States with its deep coverage of the Panama Papers financial-document leak, in which Putin's allies figure. Prokhorov, the most high profile Russian businessman operating in the U.S., is frequently the subject of anti-Americanism.  The Nets owner ran against Putin in the 2012 Russian presidential elections, gaining 8.8 percent of the vote. Since then, he's been low-key politically.

The raids on ONEXIM, which took place April 14, were supposedly aimed at tax issues. The FSB, successor to the Soviet KGB, carried out those raids.  Ironically, those raids did not target RBC. Not long after the raids, RBC's editor accepted a study leave from Stanford University, which some in Moscow saw as a concession by Prokhorov.

The current fraud case was launched following claims that shareholders were deprived of their stock. Alexander Panov, a former stockholder of one of the media holding's companies "Byte Telecom," told police that he was deprived of his stock.  So, if Russian authorities want wrest control of the troublesome media company from Prokhorov, is there a better vehicle than a fraud investigation alleging a Kremlin ally had been swindled out of his stock?

A spokesman for Russia's president denied any attempt to influence RBC or Prokhorov