Bruce Ratner’s sale of his financially troubled Brooklyn-bound New Jersey Nets hit a major obstacle on Sunday as a New Jersey congressman brought a full court press of allegations involving the would-be new owner’s shady business dealings in Zimbabwe.
But the National Basketball Association immediately slammed back, saying that Rep. Bill Pascrell (D–New Jersey) is “misinformed” about Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov’s investments in the notorious rogue nation — and not fully aware that American sanctions against Robert Mugabe’s regime still allows some corporate involvement in Zimbabwe.
“Congressman Pascrell was misinformed,” NBA spokesman Mike Bass told the New York Post. “Companies are not prohibited from doing business in Zimbabwe; rather, they are prohibited from conducting business with specifically identified individuals or entities in that country.”
Bass said there’s no indication Prokhorov, who is awaiting league approval for his purchase of the Nets, dealt with any of those people or entities.
Regardless, on Sunday, Pascrell had demanded that the Treasury Department investigate Prokhorov’s investments in Zimbabwe.
“This is of great concern,” Pascrell told Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner in a letter dated April 11. “Mr. Prokhorov has extensive business dealings in the United States, including his most-recent efforts to purchase the New Jersey Nets. … Zimbabwe is ruled under a brutal, autocratic and repressive regime.”
Pascrell said that he was pursuing the matter because the Atlantic Yards project was predicated on its public benefit and is backed by taxpayer subsidies. As such, the congressman said, the government should review the business dealings of the project’s principal investor.
Prokhorov, who made his billions in the Wild West of Russia’s mining industry, is slated to purchase 80 percent of Ratner’s dead-last New Jersey Nets. In addition, he is buying 45 percent of the proposed Barclays Center, in which the relocated team would play.
The United States’ strict sanctions — renewed by President Obama last year — forbid people with interests in the U.S. from also conducting many types of business in Zimbabwe.
A spokesman for Forest City Ratner had no comment.
Prokhorov has holdings in numerous companies, including major banks and the mining industry. One of his companies is Renaissance Capital, an investment bank based in Moscow. According to the Wall Street Journal, Prokhorov bought nearly half of the bank in 2008 during the financial crisis.
Renaissance Capital specializes in “emerging markets,” and has established ties with numerous in African nations, including Zimbabwe, as its Web site shows.
It is unclear if Renaissance’s dealings constitute a violation of U.S. sanctions. A Treasury spokeswoman said she could not comment on a pending or possible investigation into Prokhorov’s portfolio.
Prokhorov, as well known for his financial success in the post-Soviet era as he is for his lavish, playboy lifestyle, is seeking to become the first non-North American into its elite circle of team owners. It was only last year that Prokhorov swooped into pull the Atlantic Yards project away from the abyss of financial ruin by buying a majority stake in the Nets.