Mikhail Prokhorov was at Barclays Center Tuesday night to enjoy his team’s newfound respectability. He spoke briefly to Brian Lewis of the Post about his upcoming sale of 49 percent of the team to Joe Tsai, the Taiwanese billionaire who was one of the founding partner of e-commerce giant Alibaba.
“Just we are finishing the deal. I think Joe is a great partner and will help the game and help the NBA,” Prokhorov told Lewis, adding about his team’s progress, “I think we are in the right way, because the team is improving. Of course we have injuries. But it’s a part of the NBA game. But still it is also the chance for the other players for some minutes. Still, we have a long bench, so it’s part of a competitive team.”
But once again, on Tuesday morning, Prokhorov’s name has been associated with scandal back in Russia. The Daily Beast, working off a secret Cyprus government document, reports the oligarch had money —apparently a lot of it— in a bank accused of a history of money-laundering.
The Russian oligarch who owns the Brooklyn Nets basketball team stashed money in a bank the U.S. Treasury Department has accused of facilitating money laundering, weapons proliferation, sanctions evasion, organized crime, and financing a terror group, a report obtained by The Daily Beast reveals.
Michael Weiss of the Daily Beast makes no claim that Prokhorov was involved in any of the purported crimes associated with FBME, a bank that Cypriot authorities are forcing to dissolve after shuttering in May. However, Weiss quotes a 2014 Bank of Cyprus report on the bank, which states that Prokhorov kept 23 accounts at FBME Bank Ltd., formerly known as the Federal Bank of the Middle East, all of them set up by front men.
Of course, it’s not uncommon for rich individuals to use off-shore banks to do business overseas or hide assets. And Cyprus is a favorite of Russian oligarchs. Weiss also suggests that the secret accounts may have had something to do with his failed 2012 presidential run against Vladimir Putin.
A spokesman for Prokhorov and his holding company, ONEXIM, denied anything nefarious.
“The multiple companies within Onexim Group interact with dozens of banks worldwide in the regular course of doing business. At no point did Mikhail Prokhorov ask any bank to conceal his assets in connection with his presidential run in 2012 or for any other purpose.”
This is the third time in less than two weeks that Prokhorov’s name has wound up in negative stories. In late November, Prokhorov was quoted in Russian news reports as being willing to sue the Russian whistleblower who exposed the country’s extensive doping operations. Prokhorov, who had run the Russian biathlon program prior to the Sochi Olympics, was particular incensed when two biathletes were banned from international competition for life.
Than, last week, there was another report in the Wall Street Journal on the same scandal. The Journal reported that the whistleblower alleged in sworn testimony that Prokhorov paid one of the banned biathletes “millions of rubles” not to disclose the elaborate doping scheme.
Prokhorov vehemently denied that report as well and the Journal noted that the accusation was admittedly second hand and there is no further evidence to support it.
In each case, there’s been no formal charge of Prokhorov’s involvement in any crime and the poor state of Russian-U.S. relations is driving a number of journalistic threads. Will it hurt his standing with the NBA? At this point, there’s no indication of that.