MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian billionaire said on Monday he planned to relocate his company that runs the Brooklyn Nets basketball team to Russia, in keeping with the Kremlin’s call on Russian businessmen to repatriate their assets to help combat new U.S. sanctions.
The United States and European Union have imposed visa bans and asset freezes on officials and businessmen believed to be close to Russian President Vladimir Putin in protest at Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region.
Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the Brooklyn Nets, had said previously that he planned to relocate the company that runs the NBA team to Russia, but his comments to reporters in the Kremlin underlined his support for Putin.
“A Russian company will own the basketball club,” Prokhorov said before receiving a medal for services to Russia along with other national sports officials.
“This (move) does not violate any NBA (U.S. National Basketball Association) rules and I will bring it (under Russian jurisdiction) in accordance with Russian law.”
The NBA said on Monday that it had not been notified of any changes to the Nets’ ownership.
“The Nets are owned by Mikhail Prokhorov through a U.S.-based company,” Mike Bass, an NBA spokesman, said in a statement. “We have received no official application nor is there a process underway through our office to transfer the ownership of the Nets to another company.”
He did not say whether the NBA would oppose such a move.
Prokhorov has not been hit by Western sanctions and, although he ran against Putin in the 2012 presidential election, he has underlined his loyalty to the president.
Putin waged war on the so-called oligarchs who amassed political influence as well as vast riches under former President Boris Yeltsin.
Some oligarchs have been driven out of Russia, former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky was jailed for more than a decade on financial crimes charges and those who remained have largely stayed out of politics.
Prokhorov, one of Russia’s richest men, made his fortune by acquiring former state assets during the chaotic years after the 1991 disintegration of the Soviet Union.
With an estimated $10.3 billion fortune, according to Forbes magazine, Prokhorov has owned other sports clubs, including European basketball powerhouse CSKA Moscow. But he sold most of them several years ago.
Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Dan Grebler