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Prokhorov, doping whistleblower, lawyers sling suits, threats

Mikhail Prokhorov Biathlon (Onexim)

Is there anyway this can end well?

“This” being the lawsuit that three Russian Olympic athletes have filed against Russian doping whistleblower Grigory Rodchenkov ... and financed by Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of your Brooklyn Nets.

After the athletes, members of the Russian biathlon team, were banned from the Olympics in December, based on Rodchenkov’s testimony to world anti-doping authorities, Prokhorov publicly said he would be willing to finance any libel suit the athletes, all women, wanted to file against Rodchehnkov. Prokhorov had been in charge of the Russian Biathlon Union in the build-up to the 2014 Sochi Olympics when the doping allegedly took place.

It started to escalate from there. A few days later, the Wall Street Journal reported that Rodchenkov had dirt on Prokhorov,

The whistleblower at the heart of the International Olympic Committee’s case against Russia alleged in sworn testimony that Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov paid a Russian biathlete millions of rubles not to disclose the elaborate doping scheme that has resulted in the country’s ban from the upcoming Pyeongchang Games.

The Journal reporters admitted Rodchenkov’s allegation is admittedly second hand and there is no further evidence to support the accusation. Prokhorov disputed Rodchenkov’s account.

“We categorically deny this story,” a representative for Prokhorov said. “It is based on totally irresponsible hearsay and is complete nonsense.”

Two weeks ago, Prokhorov followed through and was listed as one of the financial backers behind the athletes suit against Rodchenkov. Then, it got ugly, or should we say uglier. Three days after the suit was filed, Rodchenkov, who’s working with U.S. prosecutors in the witness protection program, welcomed the lawsuit during a BBC TV interview. Specifically, he hinted he had additional material he was willing to level. His face covered, Rodchenkov said...

“I’m ready for everything. In regards to all these charges I know many things which remain undisclosed and were they to continue this, they will deeply regret their decision to sue me.

”In this particular case I know everything; welcome to court!”

And no, my dear basketball and biathlon fans, it doesn’t end there. Rodchenkov’s lawyer Jim Walden threatened a countersuit, insinuating that the Russian government may be involved in this libel suit. Walden supplied a copy of the letter “exclusively” to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo!

The letter asked for Prokhorov to preserve all communications with the athletes involved, as well as others, including “any or current or foreign Russian government officials, Russian law enforcement officers, officers or agents of the FSB (Russia’s Federal Security Service), or representatives of the Russian Olympic Committee” about the lawsuit or about Rodchenkov.

Walden suggested that Prokhorov might be trying to unmask Rodchenkov’s location — “to find him through judicial means”— which, he insinuated, could be a violation of U.S. law.

Then, in a veiled threat to Prokhorov’s ownership of the Nets, Walder noted that...

“I also understand you are the owner of a professional basketball team, the Brooklyn Nets of the NBA. The NBA, of course, has its own anti-doping rules and its own anti-doping testing program. If the press reports are true, it would seem incongruous for an NBA team owner to support a lawsuit that is calculated to discourage efforts to combat doping among athletes.”

Well, that set off more threats. Scott Balber, the lawyer representing the athletes, denied any untoward financing by intelligence organs of the Russian state, the Russian government, etc, but noted, “I am not at liberty to identify anyone else other than Mr. Prokhorov,” He called Walder’s letter a “publicity stunt” and “fiction.”

Prokhorov himself weighed in, sending a letter to Walden on Thursday (and providing it “exclusively” to Scott Soshnick of Bloomberg Sports.

“This attempt at intimidation will not deter me. How dare you suggest that I am in any way to discourage efforts to combat doping among athletes?’

“Your letter mentions the possibility of a suit against me as well as a thinly veiled threat regarding the NBA and my ownership of the Brooklyn Nets. This attempt at intimidation will not deter me from helping Olga Zaytseva, Yana Romanova and Olga Vilukhina...”

It doesn’t end there. There are whisper campaigns noting (accurately) that Balber, the lawyer who Prokhorov is paying, represents two other Russian oligarchs whose names have been mentioned in the Special Counsel’s investigation of Russia’s connections to the 2016 presidential elections and once represented Donald Trump in a libel suit against Bill Maher.

How will this sit well with Adam Silver? No word yet. Meanwhile, Prokhorov’s billion dollar sale of 49 percent of the Nets to Joe Tsai still hasn’t closed. Sigh.