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Russian intrigue; company partly-owned by Prokhorov said to be implicated in plot to kill journalist

It's looked like the purchase of a majority interest in the Nets by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was a walk. Maybe so, but a chilling charge surfacing in Moscow raises questions about Prokhorov's business interests and an alleged effort to silence a journalist.

It hasn't yet caused public ripple effects in the approval process being conducted by the National Basketball Association, but it certainly deserves scrutiny.

Writes the Star-Ledger's Dave D'Alessandro (picked up by DDDB):
They tried to kill John Helmer this week.

If you don’t know who John Helmer is, you should take the time to find out: He’s the journalist residing in Moscow who has been a pebble in Mikhail Prokhorov’s shoe since oligarchs have been collecting their billions under the protection of a corrupt, Fascist state.

In other words, he’s the kind of journalist who turns up dead once a month or so inside Putin’s Russia.

Anyway, Helmer – a fascinating and talented fellow, if not a fair bit over the top in his pursuit of truths – claims that the RuSal aluminum giant wants him dead, that the company's moronic hit men tried to act upon it at his home on Dec. 28, and that he has very convincing proof of a connection.

And yes, if that corporate name rings a bell, Prokhorov still owns 18.5 percent of RuSal.
The rest comes from the Weekend Australian, which reported:
Helmer said Russian police who interrogated the three arrested men told him the men said they worked for a private security company that had been acting on behalf of Rusal, the [Oleg] Deripaska-controlled giant, which has major interests in the Australian aluminium and bauxite industry through holdings in Queensland.
Both the security firm and RuSal deny the charges.

[Update 1/13/09: see skepticism from Robert Amsterdam. And Helmer alleges a threat apparently issued by a law firm aiming to squelch the story in the UK.]

Questions pending

In September, when Prokhorov's purchase surfaced, D'Alessandro called Helmer:
“The question arises, at least from here in Moscow: Does the NBA commissioner think it’s his duty to do what it considered due diligence?” asked John Helmer, a former Carter Administration official who has run an acclaimed business news service in Russia since 1989. “And in the United States — particularly in New York State — you have to believe that an oligarch is open to investigation.”
On Helmer's Dances with Bears blog, there are 53 entries under the category Oligarchs. Here's his coverage of Prokhorov.

Here's an interview with Helmer.