Did Vladimir Putin pressure Mikhail Prokhorov to sell the Brooklyn Nets?

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When Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov offered the Brooklyn Nets greater than two years in the past, he gave up possession of the NBA franchise partly due to pressure from Vladimir Putin, The Post has discovered.

Events that led Prokhorov’s 2019 sale of the Nets and Barclays Center to Chinese billionaire Joe Tsai stretch again 5 years earlier, in accordance to sources shut to the scenario. At the time, the US and European Union had begun to apply sanctions on Russia for taking up Crimea.

But as tensions between the US and Russia over Crimea grew, Putin in 2016 additionally started pressuring Prokhorov to sell the Nets, in accordance to sources. That’s as a result of Putin, particularly throughout instances of political turmoil, will check the loyalty of oligarchs with property in the West to present they gained’t get too shut to the US or Europe, in accordance to one supply shut to the scenario.

“Putin strongly suggested he sell the Nets,” the supply mentioned. And if Prokhorov refused, he risked shedding his appreciable property in Russia.

The approach it was: Vladimir Putin congratulates Prokhorov throughout a state award ceremony in 2014 in Moscow.
Sasha Mordovets

“You couldn’t be pro-Russian and own an NBA team,” one other supply who is aware of Prokhorov mentioned.

A spokesman for Prokhorov on Tuesday denied that Putin had pushed for the Nets sale.

“Mikhail had said for years before Joe Tsai appeared that he was open for discussion about the Nets. He was not pressured by anyone to sell, unless you mean the ‘pressure’ of the attractive offer he received for the team and the arena at the time.”

The Nets declined to remark.

Asked by a reporter in 2015 why he solely attended a number of Nets video games a year, Prokhorov’s response was obscure, however at the very least clear that the Western sanctions — regardless of being far lighter than what Russian oligarchs are dealing with now — had been an issue.

“Sanctions were imposed, and these sanctions, they have created some opportunities and some challenges for businessmen in Russia,” Prokhorov mentioned. “And I needed to be … handling and managing my business and my assets, so it was very busy.”

“Putin strongly suggested” Prokhorov sell the Nets,” the supply mentioned.
Sergei Guneyev

As the pressure mounted, Prokhorov in August 2017 offered Tsai a 49% stake in the Nets for $1 billion. The following year, the US Treasury Department turned up the warmth by issuing a listing of Kremlin-friendly Russian tycoons who’ve flourished below Putin. Prokhorov was on the checklist.

Prokhorov offered full possession of the Nets to Tsai in September 2019 for $2.35 billion, the most ever paid for a sports activities workforce. Prokhorov offered the Barclays Center to Tsai for a further $1 billion.

Insiders say the NBA was relieved. That’s as a result of the league likewise had been involved that more durable sanctions towards Russian oligarchs might power it into a clumsy spot for having accredited Prokhorov as an proprietor, sources mentioned.

Prokhorov offered full possession of the Nets to Tsai in September 2019 for $2.35 billion.
Brendan McDermid
Joe Tsai owns the Nets plus the New York Liberty.
Bloomberg

The 6-foot-8, Moscow-born metals tycoon — who purchased the Nets in 2010 and promised he would make them NBA champs — didn’t appear to a lot get pleasure from proudly owning the workforce, the supply mentioned, and is now not seen courtside at NBA video games.

“He’s never in the US,” the supply mentioned, including that Prokhorov, whose internet price is estimated at $11.8 billion by Forbes, is just not a US citizen. “He’s mostly in France.”

If Prokhorov hadn’t completed the deal, insiders say, he could have landed in an analogous spot as fellow Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who final week mentioned he was handing over stewardship of his Chelsea FC soccer membership in the UK to trustees.

Abramovich could have to determine quickly whether or not he’s loyal to Putin, who will probably demand that Abramovich help him publicly or just sell his workforce, in accordance to the supply.

Accordingly, Abramovich faces the hazard not solely of being pressured to sell Chelsea FC, but in addition seeing the proceeds frozen by the British authorities.

Roman Abramovich, left, is giving up his stewardship of Chelsea FC soccer membership.
Darren Walsh

“I don’t see how he can balance that in the long term. This is not a situation where you can straddle both sides,” the supply mentioned. “Roman still has massive assets in Russia.”