Matt Taibbi gives Mikhail Prokhorov more of a vetting in the current Men's Journal than David Stern ever did.Indeed, considering Taibbi's pungent observations ("Is American Sports Ready for a Real Gangster?"), in retrospect, even the tough part of the 60 Minutes profile last March of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, now the principal owner of the New Jersey Nets, was pretty gentle.
Consider the treatment of Prokhorov's remarkable rise; 60 Minutes reported:
In 1995, Prokhorov and [partner Vladimir] Potanin's bank won the equivalent of the Russian lottery: Kremlin leaders gave them what amounted to an insider's opportunity to buy one of the state's most valuable assets - a huge mining and metal operation called Norilsk Nickel, which is among the world's largest producers of nickel, copper and platinum.Taibbi, in a Fox Business News interview promoting the article, called the process a scandal.
They acquired it from the Kremlin in a so-called auction for the measly sum of a few hundred million dollars, in a process that even Prokhorov's business partner admitted wasn't perfect and probably not even legal under western standards. But it was legal in Russia.
Auctions "shamelessly" rigged
Here's an excerpt from the article (not online), which offers a bit more context:
The auctions, at least by American standards, were shamelessly, transparently, hilariously rigged. The essence of the scam was the transfer of the state-controlled industrial jewels of the Soviet empire into the hands of a very small group of politically connected individuals. And the best example of them involved Norilsk Nickel... Prokhorov's bank, Oneximbank, helped run the auction, then got itself declared the winner after bidding $170 million to manage a 38 percent stake in a company then worth $1.2 billion. Irrelevant was the fact that another firm had bid twice as much.Prokhorov's goals with the Nets
And what is Prokhorov up to? Taibbi writes:
The chain of events that led to Prokhorov winding up on our shores is both hilarious and totally representative of the Russian oligarch class. In Russia a key part of becoming stinking rich is shipping your profits overseas and buying a high-profile entree into Western society, so that you can show the suckers back home how much you've podnyalsya, or "risen up." The same way practically all NBA stars eventually buy tricked-out Escalads and gated mansions with swimming pools and home theaters. Russian oligarchs almost always end up buying Western vanity projects. That's why fellow Siberian billionaire Roman Abramovich bought the Chelsea soccer team.The NBA vetting
Taibbi's take: "Who did the checking? Stevie Wonder?